'Young people need to know their options'

With A-level results day looming, young people need to be aware of alternatives to university, writes Kirstie Donnelly

Kirstie Donnelly

a level apprenticeships vocational options careers advice

A-level results time has arrived again. It’s fair to say that the coming days will be nerve-wracking for thousands of young people across the country, anxiously awaiting their results and considering what's next. And for good reason: it marks the most important point in their educational lives so far, with the weight of their future sitting heavily on their shoulders.

For many, there seems just one option: listen to teachers’ or parents’ advice and follow the rest of their peers down the academic path to university. Of course, this might a good choice for many young people, but it’s not the only route and it’s not necessarily the right one either.

The problem is that the majority of 14- to 19-year olds – and, often, their teachers and parents – are unaware of all the different options that are available to them. More often than not, they simply don’t have access to information about alternative ways to gain employment into a successful career or to progress on to further study. It’s seemingly an A-B choice, but actually there’s a whole alphabet to choose from.

Skills shortage

It’s well known in the UK that we’re heading towards a skills shortage that could stifle domestic productivity. Our recent City & Guilds Group research with Emsi, published earlier this year, highlighted that nine out of 10 UK businesses already struggle to recruit the skills they need – and nearly a third (32 per cent) report that their current workforce doesn’t have the right skillset for their own job or the future needs of the business. Meanwhile, a staggering two-thirds of UK employers think that the skills gaps in their businesses are likely to get worse or remain the same in the next three to five years.

Despite the urgent need for more skilled workers, we know that many young people in the UK remain unemployed or underemployed. Our "Great Expectations" research found that 69 per cent of young people intended to go to university, whilst just 30 per cent of jobs were expected to be graduate-level positions.

So what is the alternative? Young people might want to consider an apprenticeship, or another vocational route, which will train them up to do a specific job.

Productivity lag

Apprenticeships haven't always received the best press, but the reality is that they’re still set to be one of the answers to the UK’s skills shortage and productivity lag. Not only do apprenticeships pave the way into industries like construction and engineering, which are likely to face ongoing skills challenges, they also offer young people industry-specific and general workplace skills development that will help to plug the major gap we’re facing.

On top of this, it’s a chance to gain on-the-job experience, something that’s incredibly valuable to young people and their employers, and will often propel them through careers much faster than their peers. Degree apprenticeships also provide a great opportunity for young people to fast-track into a work-based degree, but without all the debt of going to university. 

In fact, according to 38 per cent of UK employers, the role they anticipate recruiting most in the next three to five years is the apprentice. And the same proportion state that an apprenticeship programme is the top method they plan to use to encourage entrants into the workplace. 

Full range of options

So now, more than ever, young people need to understand the full range of options ahead of them. They should be given all the facts and options. At City & Guilds, we’re calling upon teachers and parents to make a concerted effort to be more aware of the alternative routes into work. The more they understand the options, the more they’ll understand the critical role that apprenticeships can play for both young people and businesses – along with the traditional academic pathway.

Not only do technical routes into the workplace give young people the skills they need to enter some of the UK’s most exciting and well-remunerated industries, they also provide a crucial solution to the UK’s widening skills gaps. So this results day, let’s make sure that young people are offered more than just the academic route to success.

Kirstie Donnelly is managing director at City & Guilds and ILM

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