HE or Apprenticeships?

The struggle for apprenticeships to be taken seriously by schools

Report by Jane Clinton

June 2015

THE STRUGGLE for apprenticeships to be taken seriously by schools has been highlighted by one careers adviser who was warned not to offer “second class” educational options to students.

The careers adviser. who wished to remain anonymous, recalled how when working at an independent school’s sixth form she was summoned to the headteacher’s office after she had mentioned apprenticeships to one of their students.

The student, who was disillusioned with her A levels, had admitted that she was not keen on going to university.

“She went away from the meeting delighted and told her Head of Year she had found an alternative to university,” said the careers adviser. 

The careers adviser was then “summoned” to the head’s office and told in no uncertain terms that apprenticeships were not an option for their students and to “not fill the students’ heads with inferior information.

“I was told not to discuss apprenticeships in the school as these were regarded as second class,” added the careers adviser.

The school was only interested in sending their students to Russell Group universities and apprenticeships were not deemed suitable for their students. 

Instead the careers adviser “surreptitiously” slipped the girl the apprenticeship application. 

Disillusioned, the careers adviser left their role citing the “mismatch” between their “morals and ethics” and those of the school.

It is not an unfamiliar story.

A report published this month (June) by the IPPR entitled Learner Drivers: Local Authorities and Apprenticeships, found that since 2010, 42 per cent of starting apprenticeships have been over the age of 25.

According to the report the perception of apprenticeships and their potential is not being fully realised.

“While they have historically been focussed in certain industries or sectors, as local economies have changed, so too has the role of apprenticeships,” it said. “They have become more diverse and have spread throughout the service-sector occupations that provide the majority of local employment opportunities. Too often, however, the current system is failing to realise its potential.”

Andy Gardner, author, careers adviser with more than 30 years’ experience and founder of the Central London Careers Hub, has voiced concern that headlines regarding apprenticeships “failing to help Britain’s young” were not providing the full picture.

“I don’t feel the headlines are getting across the more positive situation regarding Advanced, Higher and Degree Apprenticeships,” he said.

“As a Careers Adviser it is my ethical duty to make sure young people are aware of all the options available to them and the pros and cons of each option. Some of these apprenticeship options are incredibly competitive, but so are many university options.

“We all should be working to present university and apprenticeship options impartially.”

In light of this the Central London Careers Hub has, with the help of the Morrisby Organisation and top Youtuber Laura Bubble, produced a film on higher education and apprenticeships designed to be used as an icebreaker by Career Development Professionals in schools and colleges.

“It gets across the main differences (between higher education and apprenticeships) in a brief, funny and impartial way.”

He added that while many schools are aware of the ethical obligation they have to offer their students informed and impartial choices some are more interested in statistics for their marketing.

“They see their role as a sausage machine that pumps as many people as possible into the UK higher education system,” he said. “They are still living the Aimhigher dream, hoping for 100% going to university/Russell Group that they can quote in marketing/parents events.”

Jack Denton from careers website , All About School Leavers, insists “action” needs to be taken in schools for there to be a change in perception of apprenticeships.

“Despite a 20 per cent increase in the number of 18 year olds choosing an apprenticeship scheme from 2010-2015 with 55,000 students taking up schemes in 2014, university education still remains the most popular option for school leavers,” he said.

“Action needs to be taken in schools to spread awareness and to celebrate the wide diversity of alternative career options available. Only in this way will university degrees and apprenticeships be placed on an equal footing and barriers broken down in order for them to receive the right amount of attention that they deserve.

“They [apprenticeships] have been redefined to meet the needs of a recovering economy with a choice of schemes in over 170 different industry sectors from digital media to civil engineering.”

In the past three years more than 30,000 people have started a digital apprenticeship with 84 per cent of these aged 16-24. The number of digital Higher Apprentices over the same period has risen from almost none at all to nearly 1,300.

Mark Heholt of The Tech Partnership, which is a network of employers who collaborate to accelerate the growth of the digital economy, sees digital apprenticeships as offering young people “a wonderful opportunity”.

“A good quality digital apprenticeship is an excellent way into an exciting and well-paid career in the tech sector,” he said. “A Tech Industry Gold apprenticeship is accredited by industry as being a top-notch qualification delivered by reputable advisers, so prospective apprentices can be sure they are getting the best possible start.”

Since the Haymarket Skills Academy, a programme that aims to boost young people’s skills to build strong careers, started last year, it has seen their nine apprentices “thrive”, adding that the enthusiasm of young, fresh talent has also helped inspire colleagues.

One apprentice, Phil Dalton who is an Ad Ops apprenticeship said: “Due to the support of my team, coupled with practical training from my college course, I have developed both individually and professionally. I have learnt technical skills… which have given me confidence to present new ideas to my team.”

Professor Baroness Alison Wolf’s recent report Heading for the precipice: can further and higher education funding policies be sustained?, published by the Policy Institute at King’s College, London, however, has highlighted the worries regarding our skills shortage and funding options other than university.

She said: “We should all be extremely concerned about our increasingly inefficient and inegalitarian system of funding post-19 education. Our future productivity and prosperity are at risk if we don’t address the ongoing erosion of provision outside the universities.”

For Jack Denton, the importance of good apprenticeships cannot be overstated.

“Youth unemployment is a long-standing, major problem in the UK,” he said. “Apprenticeships are an increasingly important part of the UK’s long –term plan for improved workforce development and enhanced productivity. They provide young, ambitious individuals, not necessarily suited for university, the chance to gain vital skills and training in a specific industry that will end in a national qualification and a way into a career. “

Higher Education or Apprenticeships film

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