From education to employment

Our ambitions for apprentices mean we need better IAG

David Cameron is quite right in his ambition to see apprenticeships become “the new norm” for school leavers who don’t go to university. This was echoed by Labour’s Lord Adonis at unionlearn’s Valuing Apprentices conference. He said “There is not a single more important challenge than the transformation of apprenticeships. There should – at the age of 18 or 19 – be as many good quality apprenticeship places on offer as there are university places.” It is clear this ambition has cross-party support. Apprenticeships are an idea whose time has come again.

But provision of apprenticeships is just one part of the wider problem. Awareness and cultural acceptance of the apprenticeship route is just as important. And currently this is severely lacking.

At our conference we heard from four great apprentices. All of them were really enthusiastic about their experiences and the opportunities their apprenticeships had opened up for them. But sadly, not one of them had heard about their apprenticeships through their schools. The careers advice and guidance they were given focused on just one thing. As apprentice Clare Corder put it “My school was very: “university and that’s it.” They were completely focused on that.”

Our own experiences match that of these apprentices. Unionlearn have just had our own apprentice, Zoe, come on board as a full time administrator having finished her level three apprenticeship in business administration with us. For her whole time here, Zoe has been an enormous asset to unionlearn. But once again, she stumbled on the concept of apprenticeships by accident when attending local careers fair. She too had received no information on doing an apprenticeship from her school – just lots and lots of college application forms.

We’re really glad that Zoe found us. But these things shouldn’t be left to chance. There are plenty of kids out there like Zoe for whom an apprenticeship would be a much better option than continuing in higher education.  It is vital that we strengthen the knowledge that school careers services have about quality apprenticeships. But equally we need to ensure they understand and value an apprenticeship experience. Most teachers – by necessity – will be graduates. They will not, therefore, have the firsthand experience of an apprenticeship they do of the university experience, so it is natural they might be less enthusiastic about apprenticeships.

We need to ensure that schools are bringing in apprentices and those who have benefitted from them to talk to pupils and to ensure they have a well rounded perspective from those who are enjoying and benefitting from apprenticeships. I’m sure that listening to young people like Clare and Zoe would benefit the teachers and those in charge of IAG too.

But until apprenticeships are fully understood and valued by those whose job it is to speak to young people about their options, our ambitions and those of David Cameron will remain unfulfilled.

Tom Wilson is director of unionlearn, the TUC’s learning and skills organisation

Related Articles