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Young people must be part of the apprenticeship conversation

14 Feb 2024

Read our CEO Oli de Botton's article which originally appeared in FE Week on 14 Feb 2024. Together with UCAS CEO Jo Saxton, he highlights why it’s important that we listen to the voice of young people and include them in the conversation about apprenticeships.

As we pause for reflection and celebration this National Apprenticeship Week, we need to make sure we include the voices of young people in the conversation.

We often hear about what business needs or what training should look like. Skills gaps, industrial strategies, funding. All crucial. But this all begins with a young person having access to an extraordinary experience. A job with training now, and a pathway to continued learning later. 

And what are young people saying?  

They increasingly know about apprenticeships…and like them. UCAS’s Project Next Generation report reveals that 59 per cent of young people in Years 9-12 are now considering an apprenticeship. Careers and Enterprise Company (CEC) data finds that understanding of apprenticeships doubles from 39 per cent in year 7 to 79 per cent by year 11.  

Young people see – as we do – that apprenticeships can be life-changing routes. An opportunity for hands-on learning, a chance to find their way to rewarding careers. 

However, awareness and ambition are not the same as uptake.  

And there remains friction at points of transition. Part of this relates to the dynamics (and geography) of supply and demand. Previous UCAS research has revealed one in three students were prevented from pursuing an apprenticeship due to a lack of roles in their desired industry.  

There are other factors at play too, though, which UCAS and the CEC are committed to tackling. 

First, we need to make sure young people are inspired by apprenticeships from an early age. Deciding to take a work-based route rather than the well-trodden academic pathway can be daunting and there is a long lead-in time. 

High-quality, employer-focused and integrated careers programmes are important here. The enhanced provider access legislation which CEC is supporting schools to implement can make a difference too. It entitles learners to six encounters with providers of apprenticeships or other technical pathways.  

Second, we need to ensure there is parity in the way that students explore and connect to apprenticeship opportunities and more established academic routes.  

Last year, more than 40 per cent of students applying through UCAS expressed an interest in apprenticeships. UCAS’s expansion of its apprenticeship services last year means young people can see more personalised options, including apprenticeships within the UCAS Hub, alongside undergraduate choices.  

Students can search for an apprenticeship at any time throughout the year, as and when employers are hiring, with vacancies updated in real-time. These enhancements are transforming the experience of students taking that next step towards an apprenticeship – and connecting employers to apprentice talent that best fits their business needs and skills shortages. 

Third, we need to help young people have meaningful and ongoing experiences with employers. UCAS found that 85 per cent of young people consider this important for getting their apprenticeship. This work is good for young people and businesses alike.  

A CEC survey of more than 300 firms, who together employ more than one million people found, as a result of their work in schools and colleges, they are boosting apprenticeship and job applicants (75 per cent and 78 per cent respectively). Seven in 10 say it is helping close skills gaps. In practice, this has seen employers gaining a better understanding of young people, with a number of firms adapting their outreach and application approaches as a result. 

So, as we marvel at the superb achievements of many apprentices for National Apprenticeship Week, we know there is more to do to make the system inspiring, accessible and as easy as possible to navigate. Our collective ambition is to help everyone find their best next step – so they can be set up for a life of opportunity and success.