Association of Apprentices

An Association of Apprentices has been launched in an effort to help boost the number of the work-based trainees staying on and completing their course.

The new support network for apprentices was founded by the government’s apprenticeship ambassador Jason Holt, former Lord Mayor of the City of London Sir Peter Estlin and a co-founder of venture builder Blenheim Chalcot, Charles Mindenhall, in late 2019 but has been formally launched this week.

It gives apprentices access to information, advice and guidance about their programme – including what to do in events where their provider closes down or if they have been made redundant – as well as putting on social events for apprentices to network.

Holt told FE Week the association started almost ten years ago with his review of apprenticeships in small and medium-sized businesses, in which he recommended government to consider creating a society of apprentices.

Since then he, Estlin and Mindenhall have convened a number of apprentice roundtables in which it became “increasingly clear that there was a gap in the way apprentices were being supported”.

“We realised that something needed to be done to bridge that gap and build a community-based entity for all apprentices in the UK,” he added. “This is where the association was born.”

The founders hope the new network will play a part in helping providers and employers to retain the apprentices to complete their programme.

Apprentice drop-out rates are high, particularly for the new style programmes called standards. FE Week previously reported that in 2018/19, of the 54,590 apprentices that were due to finish standards, more than half of them withdrew from their course before reaching the end-point assessment stage.

The association is a not-for-profit company “for apprentices by apprentices” and has now recruited a council of 18 apprentices.

One of them is council chair Joel Roach, an apprentice at Microsoft, who believes the association will be a “powerful catalyst” for supporting apprentices and employers to “think creatively and be aspirational about skills and careers”.

“Not only will apprentices be able to learn from experts, employers and each other to enhance their skills and careers, but they’ll be able to build communities from which they can influence out, creating positive change across the thousands of organisations that employ apprentices,” he added.

Skills minister Gillian Keegan has already expressed her support for the association. In a podcast with the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education this week, she said: “Hopefully they’ll include older ones like me as well and I’ll get an opportunity to join. I think you can always learn from shared experiences.”

The association is currently being financially backed by its founders. A spokesperson said it may pursue charitable status in the future.

The association also has founding partners who include Babington, BBC, Health Education England NHS, NCFE, Royal Mail and Salesforce.