From education to employment

Introducing the first annual Apprentice panel survey report

Jennifer Coupland

@IfATechEd’s first annual #Apprentice panel survey report 

It gives me enormous pleasure to introduce the first annual survey by the Institute’s apprentice panel.

A critically important part of the Institute’s work is to work with employers to develop, revise and approve top-quality apprenticeship standards. We exist to bring a much-needed voice for employers into the evolution of technical education, but we have never lost sight of the fact that the products we help to develop and approve need to work just as well for apprentices and students as they do for industry. Our brilliant panel of apprentices help us keep a focus on that part of our work. This report shows the drive, vision and dedication of the members of that panel, and the many apprentices who took the time to respond.

The survey was created by our apprentices for all apprentices. Its goal is to provide apprentices’ views on the quality of the apprenticeship standards approved by the Institute, and how these are being converted into real-life learning experiences for apprentices across the economy and country. The apprentice panel will take these findings and recommendations to officials, politicians and stakeholders, with an aim to have a positive influence on the way the system operates.

We share the panel’s vision of an apprenticeships system that takes quality apprenticeship standards and translates these into rich, meaningful experiences for apprentices and their employers. This survey shows that there is much to celebrate about the progress made in realising that vision. But there is also more to be done. The Institute stands ready to play its part in the continuing evolution and improvement of apprenticeships; we look forward to supporting the apprentice panel in delivering on their aspirations for apprentices across the country.

Meanwhile, I offer my own thanks to the apprentice panel for their dedication, hard work and commitment, shown in this great piece of work.  I look forward to working with them and all our partners in acting upon its findings.

Jennifer Coupland, chief executive of the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education

The Apprentice Panel Survey 2020

  • This report shows the recommendations from a new survey of apprentices. The survey was designed and delivered by the apprentice panel of the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education, with support from Institute officials.
  • Questions focused on:
    • Knowledge of and satisfaction with the commitment statement
    • The time allowed for off-the-job training and how well this meets the apprentices needs
    • The relevance of what they have learned for their current job and future career
    • The suitability of the duration of their apprenticeship
    • Satisfaction with their employment experience
    • Understanding of and satisfaction with End Point Assessment
    • If apprentices would recommend their apprenticeship to others
    • The impact of the COVID-19 crisis on apprentices’ experiences
  • The survey was for people on apprenticeship standards. It was live between 30 April 2020 and 12 June 2020. There were 1,049 responses. The survey results might not represent all apprentice views.
  • Weighting has not been applied to allow for route, level, geography or employer size. In particular it should be noted that:
    • the proportion of survey responses by ‘occupational route’ does not reflect the proportion of apprenticeship starts by route in the last year;
    • the proportion of survey responses by level does not match the proportion of apprenticeship starts by level in the last year (and level 6 is significantly over-represented);
    • most results are from larger employers.
  • More information about the survey and the full results are available on the Institute website.

Executive summary

  • The survey data is encouraging. Even with the COVID-19 crisis, apprentices have told us overwhelmingly that they would recommend their apprenticeships to others. They also believe they have been equipped with meaningful, future-proofed learning that does what is intended.
  • Satisfaction with the usefulness of on- and off-the-job training is good, and lots of apprentices intend to complete their apprenticeships by taking their end-point assessment (EPA). This is evidence respondents think the apprenticeship certificate has value.
  • At the same time, there is some clear evidence of areas for improvement. Attitudes to training providers are uneven. Apprentices’ satisfaction rates with training providers’ ability to translate apprenticeship standards into appropriate training for the standard or learner were not as strong as the apprentice panel would like. Some comments from respondents suggested that apprentices felt there was room for improvement on the part of some employers, such as in supporting apprentices’ wellbeing.
  • A further area of concern is apprentices’ preparation for EPA. Despite the very high levels of commitment to taking the EPA, there are low levels of awareness of EPA content and low satisfaction with EPA preparation. This could prevent some apprentices from completing. The apprentice panel is aware of many best-practice examples of apprentices being prepared for their EPA right from the start of their apprenticeship (including, in one case, from the recruitment interview!), but these are clearly far too rare.
  • It is disappointing to learn that over a third of apprentices believe they are not receiving their right to a minimum 20% of their working hours given to off-the-job training.
  • The partnership between the apprentice, employer and training provider should be explained in the commitment statement. The survey results question the effectiveness of this and whether employers and training providers are meeting their commitments. It seems lots of information is falling between the cracks, including the identity of the End Point Assessment Organisation (EPAO), the detail of content to be learned and preparation for EPA. Satisfaction with employers’ and training providers’ success in meeting the commitments made in the commitment statement fell short of the apprentice panel’s expectations. Some respondents mentioned that they felt personally responsible for being the only link between employer and training provider.

The Impact of COVID-19

Over 40% of respondents did not feel their apprenticeship had been impacted significantly by COVID-19. This response might not reflect the experience of all apprentices. Apprentices significantly impacted may have been significantly impacted by COVID-19 you might be less likely to participate in an optional survey.

35% of those who provided qualitative responses on this topic noted that they had stopped receiving off-the-job training for some or all of the period of the crisis.

The number of qualitative comments on this section was high, reflecting the immediacy of the crisis. The most common themes in the free-text comments were on a perceived reduction in the quantity of training and engagement with apprenticeships. The decreased engagement mainly came from pauses in delivery by training providers, reduced access to on the job training opportunities (arising from lockdown and consequent home-working arrangements in most cases), and increases to workload directly connected to COVID-19.

6 Recommendations

1. Adequate preparation for End Point Assessment (EPA) should be defined and made compulsory in the delivery of apprenticeship standards

The apprentice panel believes that apprentices have a right to receive high-quality teaching and learning experiences. Adequate preparation for EPA is an important part of this. The survey shows only 41% of respondents were satisfied that they understood what would be required of them in their EPA, despite 94% of respondents saying they intend to take their EPA.

Recommended actions:

  • Build on the accountability set out in the Funding Rules for training providers to ensure EPA preparation is delivered in partnership with employers and EPAOs
  • Define and publish requirements for delivering adequate preparation for EPA. This should at least require all training providers to deliver dedicated EPA familiarisation training at the start of the apprenticeship, and also in the run-up to an apprentice’s EPA.

2. More steps should be taken to ensure that apprentices receive their entitlement to at least 20% off-the-job training during their apprenticeship

38% of respondents to the survey – nearly 4 out of every 10 respondents – said that they were getting less than 20% of their working hours for off-the-job training.   

The apprentice panel believes strongly that the value from an apprenticeship is in the delivery of appropriate amounts of high-quality training. More could be done to ensure this training is received in line with Government rules.

Recommended actions:

  • Introduce a more systematic approach to measuring the amount of off-the-job training time received by apprentices
  • Improve visibility of how apprentices or training providers can ‘whistleblow’ on employers preventing apprentices from receiving this entitlement.
  • Introduce strong incentives for whistleblowing and providing apprentice and employer feedback
  • Ensure tough penalties for employers falling short

3. Define best practice in delivering apprenticeship training and ensure that all training providers and employers deliver on- and off-the-job training to at least a minimum defined level

Fewer than two-thirds of respondents to the survey were satisfied they had received training in their apprenticeship that reflected the requirements of the apprenticeship standard.

Only 57% of respondents felt satisfied that their training plans reflected their own individual needs as a learner. The apprentice panel believes it is not too much to expect training providers and employers to ensure training is of the highest standards.

Recommended actions:

  • Define best practice for:
    • Preparation for EPA
    • Effective assessments of learning needs
    • Collaboration between employers and training providers to ensure all aspects of the standards are covered
    • Training for trainers
  • Implement a quality assurance regime that tests against this definition of best practice.

4. Minimum standards of pastoral care of apprentices by employers and training providers should be defined and delivered, recognising especially the situation of younger apprentices and those with caring responsibilities

Numerous respondents to the survey said that they would like training providers and employers to do more to support them during their apprenticeships. The apprentice panel recognises this could be increased by the Covid-19 crisis. However, the panel believes that employers and training providers could have a bigger part to play in mitigating the wider crisis in mental health and wellbeing of (especially younger) people through their engagements with apprentices.

Recommended actions:

  • Define minimum standards for pastoral care for employers and training providers

5. More steps should be taken in the marketing of apprenticeships to promote the value of apprentices to employers, and apprentices’ own perceptions of the value of on-the-job learning

The apprentice panel notes that respondents’ satisfaction rates relating to on-the-job learning (83%) is higher than for off-the-job learning (70%). Respondents also showed high levels of satisfaction that apprenticeships prepare and qualify them for current and future work. These responses, and others like them, may suggest that apprentices derive satisfaction from the on-the-job experience that is inherent in apprenticeship learning.

The panel believes more emphasis should be placed on this in the marketing of apprenticeships, and on measures of the value brought to employers by apprentices. The panel believes the focus of apprenticeship marketing should be on where the apprenticeship takes an apprentice, rather than on the apprentice’s start-point. The use of data from this survey and elsewhere would enable this.

6. Create a strengthened commitment statement that places more emphasis on quality of apprenticeship delivery, to hold training providers and employers to account and to assist in meeting the recommendations above.

Respondents were more satisfied by their own success in meeting the commitments made in the commitment statement than by that of their employers or training providers. Numerous responses also suggested that apprentices felt uninformed about their employers’ or training providers’ future plans relating to the delivery of their apprenticeship. There often appeared to be connected with a lack of organised collaboration and communication between employer and training provider.

The apprentice panel believes apprentices should be in a position to hold employers and training providers to account for the three-way partnership that is supposed to lie at the heart of every apprenticeship. The panel also believes that the commitment statement has the potential to be a statement of intent about quality in the delivery of apprenticeships, and believes revisions should be made to place more emphasis on defining minimum acceptable standards within the commitment statement.

Next steps

As well as working collaboratively with the ESFA, employers and training providers to implement the recommendations above, the apprentice panel intends to undertake the creation of its own best-practice guidance as a support to apprentices, training providers and employers.

This will build on what the panel has been told within the survey and other information at its disposal. It is hoped this will take the form of an ‘apprenticeship starter pack’ that will lay out good practice in areas such as:

  • how training providers and employers could best work together to support apprentices’ wellbeing;
  • defining suggested minimum expectations for preparing apprentices for EPA;
  • suggesting how training providers, employers and apprentices should come together regularly to review and confirm that commitments made in the commitment statement are being met; and
  • how they would like to see employers and training providers liaise properly with one another in practical terms.

The apprentice panel fully intends that this document will provide an influential ‘nudge’ and guide to employers, training providers, policy-makers and other stakeholders to begin to embed these expectations in usual practice.

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