'Without proper career advice, young people have to find their own way to apprenticeships'

Two-thirds of apprentices are not told about apprenticeships by their school or a careers adviser, Godfrey Owen writes. This is a problem that needs to be tackled

If we can't explain a school rule to pupils, then maybe it is not worth having, says Jarlath O'Brien

Apprenticeship providers, colleges and employers have long complained about the difficulty in talking to school children about their futures. But the recent work of hundreds of apprentices going into schools and talking about apprenticeships through the Brathay Apprentice Challenge has provided some new insights into the challenges we face if we are serious about more young people becoming apprentices.

Recent research by TES and the Association of Colleges found that just one in 10 principals said they were given comprehensive access to explain about education and training provided in FE.

As part of the challenge, teams went into schools, colleges and youth groups around the country to explain how they became apprentices and how they can earn while they learn to gain a real job, real qualifications and a real future.

The teams reported barriers similar to those faced by the principals in the AoC study: barriers such as schools not willing to provide the teams with time to speak, cancelled appointments to speak to classrooms and teachers who couldn’t explain what an apprenticeship was before introducing the apprentices. 

At a grammar school, one team pointed out that they had been given an hour to talk to the students about apprenticeships, covering hundreds of roles and potentially thousands of employers, yet universities had a whole day to set out their stalls.

This feedback shows we may be a long way from Nicky Morgan’s vision that schools must give vocational routes as much weight as academic ones; her plans to legislate to compel schools to provide such advice may well be necessary.

While tens of thousands of young people heard from the competing apprentices this year, the challenge competitors themselves had less of an opportunity to find out about apprenticeships while at school.

'Apprentices must find their own way to apprenticeships'

Indeed, research among almost 400 competing apprentices found that almost two-thirds (60 per cent) were not told about apprenticeships by their school or a careers adviser. These apprentices had to find their own way to apprenticeships.

If schools, colleges, training providers and employers are going to meet the government’s ambition for the creation of 3 million apprentices before 2020, this is the number one problem that must be tackled.

Commentators have long held that more needs to be done in our schools to embed apprenticeships into the educational psyche – to see them as a valid and credible route to a rewarding career. And this research shows the huge work that still needs to be done to make this a reality. Yet the Brathay Apprentice Challenge shows how this problem can be overcome, in a way that doesn’t add to the workload of schools or careers advisers. 

We know from previous years in the challenge that 90 per cent of young people who hear about apprenticeships from current apprentices will go on to actively consider becoming an apprentice.

The overall winners of the challenge – and apprentice team of the year – UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA), were just one of many teams that reported that the impact of going to speak to young people on a peer-to-peer basis was a positive one for their business. 

UKAEA and other firms that gave apprentices time to go and speak to school assemblies, careers events, and in classroom and youth groups, saw significant uplifts in applications for their own apprenticeship programmes.

So it is not just future apprentices who will benefit. And as more young people become interested in apprenticeships, so we need more vacancies, which is where similar peer-to-peer marketing is also effective.

The Brathay Apprentice Challenge teams used a similar approach – organising events to show what they achieve – to inspire more than 400 new employers to take on apprentices.  

Here is the solution to the big apprentice challenges: empower current apprentices to spread the word about how apprenticeships are helping them to get in and go far, and we will ensure apprenticeships in this country reach their potential.

Godfrey Owen is chief executive of the Brathay Trust. He tweets at @godfreycowen. For more details about the challenge, please visit www.brathay.org.uk/challenge 

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