According to reports in the media, apprenticeships are great. They’re becoming more and more popular and have huge backing from the government, so it seems odd to read in a survey that more than 90 per cent of 18-24 year olds aren’t interested in starting one. So what’s going on?
The survey results suggest that apprenticeships have an image problem, and young people, along with two-thirds of people aged over 55, thought that going to university would be a much better career option. The biggest reason for this is said to be poor careers advice being given at school.
But figures and student stories would suggest that there has never been a better time to start an apprenticeship. Nationally, there were almost 500,000 apprenticeships started in 2014-15, which was a 12 per cent increase from the year before.
Sussex Coast College Hastings, one of the largest providers of further education in East Sussex, was able to help to start more than 2,000 of the 65,000 apprenticeships in the South East. The college saw a 10 per cent increase in apprenticeships, with over 1,500 of these started by people aged 19 and above.
Samantha McIver, 19, is currently studying for her second apprenticeship. She successfully completed a level 2 at a local law firm and is now studying a level 3 and working at Sussex Coast College.
Sam said: “I certainly disagree that apprenticeships have a bad image. I knew an apprenticeship was what I wanted to do when I left school. I didn’t want to have a student loan, or face fierce competition for one job.
“Apprenticeships give you much more opportunity to find a career that you want to do. Some people go to university and study for three years, and when they graduate they find it so difficult to get the job they want.”
Offering young people the best advice
The college has been championing apprenticeships for some time. In 2014, it was instrumental in helping 1,066 young people become more employable through work experience and apprenticeships. It continues to back National Apprenticeship Week each year, and regularly holds assemblies at the college and local secondary schools to help give career advice to students and parents.
To further strengthen the apprenticeship offering and ensure that young people are given the best advice about starting an apprenticeship, the college has recently joined forces with another local college. Working in collaboration with Sussex Downs College, in Eastbourne, it has formed Sussex Skills Solutions. The working partnership between the two will mean that they will be able to offer meaningful advice, skills training and apprenticeships across the whole of Sussex.
Sussex Skills Solutions will also be able to work closely with employers to offer them advice about taking on an apprentice, up-skilling current workforce, and what the introduction of the apprenticeship levy means to them.
The landscape of apprenticeships will be changing from April of this year. The introduction of the levy will mean a greater focus on up-skilling current employees and could really help with this so-called image problem.
As the number of higher level apprenticeship standards begins to build and the amount of long-term, personal debt from high tuition fees and maintenance loan repayments starts to be even more of a reality, then young people aged 19-24, and their parents or carers, will truly see an apprenticeship as an alternative where you can earn and learn. As employers deploy their apprentice levy payments on pre-graduate schemes, more and more young people should benefit from accessing apprenticeships, further increasing the volume and worth of such programmes.
We are not there yet, but if careers guidance can catch up and really show that apprenticeships have a dual role to provide entry-level employment and opportunities to up-skill and gain degree-level qualifications – while offering participants the chance to gain experience and get paid – then we might be at the dawn of another apprenticeship revolution.
Ashley Chapman is a marketing and communications executive at Sussex Coast College