Working backwards to move forwards on attracting ‘elusive’ 16 to 18 apprentices

Providers delivered less 16 to 18 apprenticeship provision last year than they had initially expected. It resulted in a £241.5m under-delivery on the programme across the sector. Ben Pike looks at what providers can do to get more teenagers interested in apprenticeships.

At a time when the media is shining the spotlight on apprenticeships and the government is making significant investment in vocational training, apprenticeship providers should be dancing with joy at the influx of young people to fill thousands of roles across the UK.

The market for 16 to 18-year-olds is a target market which is arguably having the toughest time to find work and so should be falling over itself to grab the opportunities that an apprenticeship can offer.

But this is not the picture across the industry.

With many training providers struggling to find the right people to deliver on their funding allocations, why are some providers succeeding where others aren’t?

It is a pity that some higher-achieving schools still show resistance to apprenticeships, but this shouldn’t dissuade providers from plugging away at the basics

We’re a grade one provider and we have built success with 16 to 18s by giving them what they want — that’s a real job, an exciting progression route in the IT sector, and industry-recognised qualifications that support them into their career.

But to achieve that, providers should start by pleasing the employer and work backwards to the candidate.

One challenge here is to communicate the benefits of apprenticeships to employers, and set their expectations accordingly.

We are honest with employers — a 16 to 18-year-old may take longer to become effective. They may interview less confidently. They may do some unusual things in the office.

Because 19+ candidates are only part-funded, QA also charges a programme fee for them.

Older candidates are likely to be more mature and boast professional experience. They require less of an investment in time, so we invite employers to invest more financially to work with them. This way, the employer is faced with a commercial choice over their new hire.

It is an effective, positive way to delineate the two funding options and frame the benefits in an employer’s mind. The employer is challenged to make the internal investment in time required to take on a more junior person.

Beyond telling them what to expect from a candidate, providers need to help employers fit as much of the apprenticeship around their workplace needs as possible. A provider should help employers create bespoke development plans, so that apprentices come into a well-structured, nurturing environment.

The employer has thought about the role that the apprentices should fulfil – this is the structure upon which to hang the qualifications and units; not the other way around.

If a training provider can communicate opportunities through engaging dialogue and proactive campaigns, then those elusive 16 to 18-year-olds will respond positively.

Speak to 16 to 18-year-olds where they’re likely to listen — via social media, on-the-go communications, or through their influencers and peers.

It is a pity that some higher-achieving schools still show resistance to apprenticeships, but this shouldn’t dissuade providers from plugging away at the basics.

We see our apprentices as our strongest ambassadors, so we put them at the centre of our communications — whether via imagery, quotes on emails or appearing on YouTube, showcasing those who have enjoyed the process is by far our strongest endorsement.

And as for what to say — it comes back to giving them what they want. As much as possible providers should give young people live, up-to-the-minute information on all vacancies and opportunities — creating a buzz and urgency as young people see their peers step into roles that could have been theirs.

Be bold with campaigns and unapologetic about success — in a fast-paced world, only the loudest are heard.

Finally, the candidate screening and selection process is a crucial ingredient to attracting young people to apprenticeships.

For many of these young people, an interview for an apprenticeship may be their first ever job interview and as an apprenticeship provider we have to do more than simply hand out tips. Through telephone assessments, recruitment days and interview preparation, there is a structured process that adds value and excites them at each stage.

Ben Pike, director, QA Apprenticeships

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