An urgent call to demystify apprenticeships

As we approach exam results, the option for a young person to undertake an apprenticeship needs to be a mainstream consideration, equal to that of choosing to study at university. To reach the point that both pathways are seen in equal terms, we need to make sure apprenticeships are better understood by students, the teachers who support them and their parents or carers who wish to help them pursue their ambitions.

The challenge, as shown in a recent report from PLMR’s Education Practice, is that teachers in schools are not confidently well-equipped to signpost students to information about apprenticeships or how to apply for one. Whilst staff in further education and sixth form colleges are better prepared to do so, there is a paucity of clear, easily-accessible information available and known to teachers, students and their parents or carers. UCAS has been making strides in this space but we need to do much more.

So-called ‘careers advice’ needs to be about what is right for students, not institutions. Advice tends towards university options by default as schools and colleges certainly use entries into university as a measure of success promoted to prospective and current students and their families. University degrees are what the majority of teachers and many parents easily understand as they themselves are university graduates. And even for those parents who don’t have a degree university may well be something they aspire to for their children without realising this may not be the best route into work. It is not easy to advise young people about different options if you have limited understanding or experience yourself of what those entail. Yet, while university can provide brilliant opportunities, it is not going to be the best route for every student into a meaningful, rewarding lifetime of work – so we need to make it as easy as possible for people to understand all the options.

To achieve this, we need to change the way we think about careers advice – especially as many people hear ‘career’ and automatically think of white collar jobs. We need to think more about how we advise young people to get on the right path to gain the skills they will need to work in the sectors that ignite their passion and excitement for what lies ahead – an apprenticeship is a brilliant way to kick off that road to success.

Parents and carers have a significant impact on the choices young people make. Interestingly, it may be many young people’s grandparents who understand apprenticeships better than their parents or carers, as people their grandparents’ age and older may well have started off as an apprentice in accountancy, nursing or another industry. Apprenticeship routes for those lines of work fell out of favour in a clamour for university degrees, and apprenticeships became more associated with learning a trade.

Yet, there is now a huge range of apprenticeships available for school leavers, including with organisations ranging from Airbus to the NHS to management consultancies like KPMG. These apprenticeships are available at a variety of levels from L2 (GCSE equivalent) up to L6 (degree equivalent) and beyond. Apprenticeships are versatile enough to be suitable both for young people who are high academic achievers or for those who may have struggled in the classroom environment or prefer to learn on-the-job. An apprenticeship provides a fantastic opportunity to learn, and earn, whilst moving towards receiving the qualifications a young person needs to get a rewarding job that suits their interests.

We are continuing to deal with the ramifications of the pandemic and the ongoing cost-of-living crisis. If we are going help young people take their next steps in this environment, and indeed tackle these sorts of challenges as the adults in the society of the future, we need to ensure they are well-advised about their options. Government needs to work closely with the education sector, including UCAS, to urgently demystify apprenticeships so students, teachers, parents and carers can better understand all available options and the life-changing opportunities an apprenticeship can offer.

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