The number of people starting apprenticeships in 2017/18 has decreased since 2016/17. Could this be because people see them as less valuable?
There is a high level of general support for apprenticeships, with 95% of parents believing that more young people doing apprenticeships straight out of school is a good thing for the UK. Despite this, 25% of parents would refuse to consider any non-university led progression routes, which could in part be due to stigma surrounding the dated word of “apprenticeship”. For many it is still associated with being “on the tools” rather than offering a broad range of disciplines and degree level opportunities.
Apprenticeships at Engie
Our first speakers were Peter and Stephanie from Engie, who shared their experiences of being tasked with making a strategy to recover as much of the Apprenticeship Levy as possible by putting it to good use. An engagement survey highlighted the fact that very few employees knew about development opportunities. In order to invest in existing employees, Engie had to educate its teams around these opportunities and highlight that apprenticeships aren’t just young people learning manual labour skills but are a way for existing employees to upskill and can be carried out at higher levels, all the way up to degree and MBA levels. One way to combat the stigma is to refer to over 25’s in apprenticeships as “learners”.
Another challenge Engie faces is that there are too many training providers because there are so many niche qualifications to cater to. An audit will be taking place soon to try to streamline these providers and assess their quality.
Putting the levy to good use
While Peter and Stephanie have tried to make the most of the levy (Engie uses around 25%) they accept that it is nearly impossible for companies to use the full amount, which raises the question of whether more can be done by the government to invest this back in apprentices. Engie are reluctant to pay the minimum apprenticeship wage as they have valuable employees that they know need more financial support, especially older apprenticeships with families, so perhaps one solution would be if the government allowed the levy to be used to pay farer wages.
While apprenticeships are seen as a way to “earn and learn” this does not necessarily mean it is more affordable for people from disadvantaged backgrounds. The minimum wage for apprenticeships is very low and rarely enough to live and pay rent with, often resulting in apprentices living at home. Graduates on the other hand can take out loans, move anywhere, and live a relatively comfortable life with this money. Social mobility as about getting on the career ladder and progressing, however people from disadvantaged backgrounds tend to get “stuck” on lower level apprenticeships. They are also less likely than graduates to get “soft skills” training such as on leadership skill or workplace etiquette, which may hinder their assimilation into an organisation.
The Social Mobility Network
We were lucky enough to briefly steal Rachael away from her Brexit work to hear about social mobility. Rachael is from the social mobility network and explained some of the measurements used to determine someone’s socio-economic background, which include: the school they attended, parental occupation, parental qualification and their eligibility for free school meals. There are tools that offer contextualised recruitment for companies, such as REALrating, Capp and Rare. There is also a project called upReach that works with disadvantaged students to create tailored programmes for students, which it does so by partnering with employers. Social mobility tools like these give a deeper insight into candidates and allows companies to make better, more informed decisions.
Education and stigma
Many employers are on-board with improving social mobility and encouraging apprenticeships in their organisation, however there is clearly room for improvement through education and understanding of potential opportunities. Continued stigma around the word “apprenticeship” may also contribute to a lack of encouragement from parents and teachers, so educating influencers could be a huge benefit in encouraging young people to begin apprenticeships.
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