Sending out the right messages

Ruth Sparkes advises providers on how best to promote their apprenticeships programmes.

We have, in our marketing armoury, lots of ammunition when it comes to recruiting potential students and persuading them that getting an apprenticeship is a good idea

There are specialist magazines, prospectuses, websites, job-matching services, mobile apps, social media, bumper stickers — not to mention the national weeks dedicated to raising the awareness of apprenticeships.

We have built this arsenal because to get students’ attention there is a lot of competition.

Schools are competing with colleges, colleges and training providers are both working and competing with employers — and each other — while employers are working and competing with universities to sign-up the potential ‘high flyers’.

But because apprenticeships are not A-levels, parents and the media are not particularly interested in them, or well informed about them — we need to continually tell the world about how successful young people who complete apprenticeships really are.

Apprenticeships still suffer from a tainted reputation.

Just last month, an inquiry was launched to look at how the Government proposes to achieve its target and how standards can be maintained and enforced.

And the Sutton Trust recently reported 60 per cent of apprenticeships are currently set at GCSE standard (level two), with too many offering ‘little value beyond traditional work experience placements’.

We used GCSE results day last year to get an apprentice on ITV’s This Morning

After reading this, put yourself in our audience’s shoes — do we look like we’re trying to pass off a pig’s ear as a silk purse?

I often maintain that marketing is not about papering over the cracks. Even though apprenticeships are a long way off being perfect, there are some obstacles that we can identify and overcome.

We need to accept there isn’t parity of esteem for apprenticeships and complaining about this is a waste of time.

Schools and universities are major influencers and they are not currently singing the praises of apprenticeships — a Russell Group university will not look favourably on apprenticeships as a route to their brand of higher education.

Look at local schools’ websites — if there’s an alumni page, how many listings mention ex-students going off to complete an apprenticeship?

In the blurb about the school or under ‘destinations’, is there a list of students who go on to apprenticeships after GCSE or A-levels? I’m guessing not.

Colleges aren’t so hot at this either.

In the media we see plenty of stories about students who are Oxbridge bound, but not many about students who are apprenticeship bound. It’s not a criticism; it’s just not ‘news’.

My first tip would be keep the messages simple.

Have at least three messages for your different audiences — for parents and apprentices your message might be ‘employers are hungry for certain skills and this is the most cost effective route to a valuable career – debt free!

Secondly, use current national stories — topics to piggyback on currently include skills shortages, mindfulness, women in STEM, males in primary schools, aerospace and Europe.

We used GCSE results day last year to get an apprentice on ITV’s This Morning.

Thirdly, find a personal or unusual angle. Look for something unique.

We’ve used ex-soldiers who’ve retrained in construction — Baghdad to Battersea — and a costume apprentice at the English National Opera.

Finally, beware the stereotype. Even high quality images of females painting nails and males laying bricks do nothing to further our cause.




Ruth Sparkes is managing director of EMPRA, an education media and PR agency

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