From education to employment

UCAS can prove the key to greater backing for apprentices

Suzie Webb, Director of Education and Development, AAT
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Despite the very serious threat of cuts to 16-18 apprenticeships, the Government’s apparent enthusiasm to push on with the levy and achieve the 3m target does at least build a platform for the scheme to hopefully build on over the coming years.

There are strong indications that healthy demand for apprenticeships exists. AAT’s own research has shown that 40% small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with at least ten employees took on an apprentice over the past twelve months – while around 175,000 SMEs nationwide have kept on at least half of them for the longer-term.

But while there is the appetite to take apprentices on, there is the pervading feeling in schools that university remains the best route to success. Two thirds of students aged 16-18 told us over the summer that their careers advice still felt skewed towards university and, as a direct result, there are still too many getting into huge levels of debt to gain a degree that doesn’t necessarily aid their career progression.

One suggestion which has been made is to use the UCAS system for apprenticeships in the same way as it is used for universities, or a similar system to UCAS running alongside it. This would be an excellent solution – attracting confidence in the apprenticeship scheme from parents and teachers but most importantly resonating with the students themselves.

The new AAT Advanced Diploma in Accounting is anticipated to be of equivalent UCAS points value to the previous AAT Diploma in Accounting (QCF), and some students who already have their hearts set on going into accountancy supplement their A-Levels with this qualification to help them on route to university. Wouldn’t it be great if these points can be redirected towards getting an apprenticeship as well, enabling these students to gain the soft skills and training necessary for succeeding in their career?

Having attracted the talent, the standards of training, of course, need to be first-rate to help truly upskill Britain’s workforce. Earlier this year, many accountancy bodies joined forces to unveil a new apprenticeship standard for the industry, setting out the knowledge, skills and behaviour required for a successful accountancy apprentice on completion of their apprenticeship. This is designed to ensure that, across all organisations in the sector, training for apprentices is of consistently high quality.

Ultimately, employers are best placed to determine what training and skills young people will require through their apprenticeships in order to be work-ready, along with their own business needs to get the best out of new employees. Through the UCAS system, these businesses will have easy access to apprentices at 18, gaining new workers who are keen for success, and demonstrating how Britain can succeed with technical as well as academic education. 

And young people throughout the country would benefit from these reforms as well. Far from there being an academic/technical ‘divide’, the choices available to them at a critical stage of life when they are beginning to consider their future careers would be made much clearer, and the system would be streamlined to help ensure they are making decisions that are right for them.

Suzie Webb, Director of Education and Development, AAT

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