Don’t solely blame ‘the careers system’ for low apprenticeship starts 

3 Apr 2022, 6:00

Many of the issues putting young people off apprenticeships are in the control of employers and providers, not careers advisers, writes Laura-Jane Rawlings 

At the Annual Apprenticeship Conference last week, it was interesting to hear claims that the careers education system is still not delivering for apprenticeships

Frustrating as it is that the conversation has not moved on in the past ten years, we have to sense-check the narratives we are using. The careers system isn’t perfect, but it is changing. 

Let’s explore the role that careers education has in “delivering for apprenticeships”. It’s a requirement that young people get to hear about all routes available to them. 

Young people in education tell us via the Youth Voice Census that they are hearing more about apprenticeships than ever before.

In 2021, 86 per cent of young people had apprenticeships discussed with them in school, which is a significant increase on the years before. Anecdotally, more schools are opening their doors again to great in-person activity. 

But despite hearing much more about apprenticeships, only 29 per cent of young people aged 14 to 18 were likely to apply for one. 

So we need to better understand what sits behind that decision – and much of it is in the hands of providers and employers. 

Here are the key factors that are holding young people back: 

1. Availability 

 Only 9.9 per cent of young people think they will find a good-quality job where they live. If you search Find An Apprenticeship in your local area, how many vacancies come up?  

Today in Corby, there are 15 higher/degree apprenticeships in a 20-mile radius, for a town with around 400 young people looking for post-18 pathways. 

Young people can only look for what’s available in their area. Social mobility and disadvantage will mean that young people cannot always afford to travel or feel confident enough to move. 

We have to look at the whole apprenticeship pay structure

We can provide more apprenticeships and make it easier for SMEs to provide apprenticeships too.  

We also have to think about the barriers to apprenticeships. Is there more that providers or employers can do to ensure more affordable travel? Perhaps paying a month in advance, supporting season ticket loans, and thinking creatively about how more young people can access opportunities outside their local area.  

2. Job descriptions 

When you’re on Find An Apprenticeship, check out the job descriptions of a random number of vacancies, including the jargon being used, the descriptors and information available.  

Job descriptions are most often the first interaction with an employer that a young person has. Most organisations will not change the language, tone or description of a job to meet their target audience when thinking about apprentices.

However, this is an organisation’s chance to think differently about the requirements it is asking for.  

Compare that to a university prospectus, which is solely written with the target audience in mind: they sell the course, content and the wider opportunity too.  

3. Person specifications 

Person specifications have the power to very quickly make young people feel as though they are not good enough for a job. This approach needs to be rethought.  

We also need to update our expectations.

Young people have had limited to no access to work experience or part-time employment for at least the past two years during Covid. However, many employers are still asking for recent work experience. 

 4. Salary 

While young people are, in the main, willing to accept a reduced salary for quality training, they cannot, and do not, want to work for the minimum rates, particularly where they are doing a real job alongside their training. 

This is a contentious issue, but we have to look at the whole apprentice pay structure.   

These areas I have mentioned here are just the tip of what we know from young people, through the Youth Voice Census. There is more we all need to do to level up apprenticeships. 

But it is not the sole job of the careers system. In fact, it has no control over the four points I have raised above! 

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