Lesley Davies OBE, Principal/CEO at Trafford College and Greater Manchester Apprenticeship Company representative

Over the next few weeks, thousands of young people will be considering their next steps as they prepare to receive their exam results. The 17th and 24th August will be daunting days for many – whether it is the pressure of achieving target grades to get into university or of simply not knowing or being slightly unsure of what path to take next.

When the government raised the participation age to 18 in 2015, it was met with optimism by further education (FE) and career professionals. Introduced to help learners improve their life and career prospects by continuing with some form of accredited learning post-GCSEs, it signalled an opportunity for young people to kick start their career from an earlier stage. As ever, colleges were ready to play a vital role in supporting the changes by providing programmes of study for full time learners and apprenticeships for those in work.

Despite this, knowledge surrounding the options for young people from the age of 16 has been disjointed at best, with the misperception for many young people that they had no choice but to follow the academic route and undertake A Levels. Research from Prudential released during this year’s National Apprenticeship Week found that nearly half (47 per cent) of 16-18 year olds surveyed admitted to not knowing about apprenticeship opportunities, a worrying statistic. In truth, instead of narrowing the options available to young people, raising the participation age has opened the doors to an increased number of progression pathways.

Communicating this in an effective way has been the challenge for many providers and although every effort is made to ensure young people know well in advance of their transition stage at age 16 what the options are, many reach this time without all the information they need to make an informed decision about their next steps.

Come results day every young person should feel prepared with the knowledge of the options available to them. This of course extends not only to 16 year olds who have completed their GCSEs but also to those who have completed A Levels or equivalent at 18, and might be interested in a higher or degree apprenticeship as their next step. The answer has to be consistent, quality careers advice and guidance, and the responsibility falls on us as providers to ensure this is in place.

Consistency is key and it is the need for this, paired with the ever-changing skills landscape, that sparked the formation of the Greater Manchester Apprenticeship Company (GMAC) in 2016. The partnership, backed by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, has seen 10 leading FE providers join forces to promote and drive up the standards of apprenticeships in the region.

Operating in a traditionally competitive market, the partners recognised the value a collaborative approach could add to the availability of provision in the region, to the local economy and ultimately to career progression for learners. That is not to say we no longer compete, but the project has provided partners with a structure within which to find our areas of commonality and focus our collaboration accordingly.

Forming a partnership of this kind requires flexibility of its partners; it requires identifying agreed objectives from the outset and being prepared to find a way that works for all members. If you have this then a lot can be achieved in a relatively short space of time, as we have learnt.

Areas of collaboration to date have included joint work on apprenticeship standards, the sharing of best practice and expertise at the partnership’s inaugural staff conference, and the creation of an online careers portal designed to support and inspire learners as they look to progress on to an apprenticeship.

Two heads are without doubt better than one, and so are three, four and so forth. What collaboration offers is the pooling of resources, knowledge and expertise to enable activity that is capable of having a much greater impact than can be achieved working in silos. For example, as a partnership GMAC has a collective employer base of over 20,000 businesses in the region which allows us to tailor our careers support and advice to reflect the demands of our local economy. 

A joined-up approach has also allowed us to keep pace with technological advances to offer a one-stop-shop portal for learners. For the first time, learners have access to 24/7 careers and employability support including a range of inspiring resources, from employer videos with key job hunting tips to a CV builder. This level of support ensures that learners have the information to be able to think about their career route from an early stage and will, we hope, ensure they have the tools and aspirations to take advantage of the vast range of opportunities open to them when the time comes.

Partnering on apprenticeships made sense in Greater Manchester, but there is no reason to suggest a similar model could not be applied to other progression pathways. The lesson learned from this has to be that effective partnerships in FE can and are delivering real benefits to learners. One year in, and as a result of the work of the partnership, we are already having better informed conversations with students and parents about the apprenticeship route. We feel confident that on this year's results day our learners will have a better understanding of the apprenticeship route and its benefits, which will help them make informed choices about their next steps whatever they achieve on the day.

Lesley Davies OBE, Principal/CEO at Trafford College and Greater Manchester Apprenticeship Company representative

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