Boosting apprenticeships take-up requires better lines of communication

Communication channels between employers, schools, parents and students are vital but they are far too inconsistent to deliver on their potential

Communication channels between employers, schools, parents and students are vital but they are far too inconsistent to deliver on their potential

15 Jun 2024, 5:00

Seven years after the apprenticeship levy was introduced to reform the further education and skills landscape, its impact remains a hot conversational topic across the sector.

Maximising the opportunities presented by apprenticeship reform was never going to be a simple task, but what are the main barriers to progress?

Outdated attitudes

One of the broadest challenges for apprenticeships is difficult to influence and overcome: outdated attitudes towards the schemes themselves. Apprenticeships have developed hugely in recent years, and I have witnessed an encouraging shift in the attitudes of students when discussing their options.

However, it’s parents and guardians who may hold the key to unlocking a better understanding of the opportunities apprenticeships can provide. These stakeholders play a vital role in the decisions young people make about life after mainstream education.

A good proportion of Markerstudy’s applicants come via recommendations from friends and family who already work in the organisation. They’ve seen first-hand the commitment to and investment in our apprenticeships.

Inviting parents and guardians to our apprenticeship evenings has been an eye-opening and positive experience. It’s vital that our sector continues to find ways to change mindsets, demonstrating that apprenticeships are both a valid and valuable route into employment.

Schools weak

Unfortunately, it can be challenging to engage with schools in a meaningful and productive way. I’ve spent many hours supporting schools with their careers advice and suffered my fair share of frustrations with what appears to be a lack of strategic thought when it comes to engaging with further education providers.

In my experience, it isn’t particularly difficult getting in front of students in schools. Whether they are the right students at the right time is a very different story.

Yet there have always been and will always be a proportion who show no particular interest in university. Providing them with specific and relevant information and guidance early on works really well, but opportunities to do so are far too inconsistent.

In any case, showcasing apprenticeships can’t be confined to National Apprenticeship Week. There’s a lot more that can be done to help employers engage with the right student demographics at the right time throughout the year.

Tick-box events

But businesses don’t have the resources to support what can too often be tick-box-exercise careers events. That time would be far better spent collaborating with government, local councils and schools to help shape a more relevant careers advice strategy.

I’ve seen the very best and worst of this across the country, and it’s time we identified and shared best practice in a meaningful way. Take the Apprenticeship Ambassador Network (AAN), for example. My work with the AAN has forged relationships with like-minded staff members in schools and local authorities which, in turn, has helped to develop a more joined-up approach to advocating apprenticeships.

In addition, the AAN online hub is helping me and many others connect the dots between employers, students, parents and teachers on a broader scale. Among other things, it displays a list of careers events, often hosted by schools or colleges, that members can attend.

In my experience, these events are of higher quality and offer more value than those arranged on an individual basis.

Mismatched placements

Lastly, the provision of more targeted work experience programmes has obvious benefits for students and employers too. But before accepting any work experience placements, it is vital that all parties involved know exactly what their intended outcomes are.

This makes the matching process far more targeted at supporting students on an individual basis, and ensures their work experience is as relevant and valuable as possible.

In all of these ways and more, communication channels between employers, schools, parents and students are vital to improving the take-up of apprenticeships and changing any misconceptions about the opportunities they provide.

They should be easily accessible to businesses of all sizes with an interest in supporting apprenticeships, no matter where they’re based, and provide a more consistent platform to shine the spotlight on apprenticeships across the country.

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