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Anyone working in education and careers will know that we just celebrated National Apprenticeship Week 2018, five days of information and inspiration hoping to encourage a new generation of young people to learn more about the great opportunities out there. But just like puppies and Christmas – talking about apprenticeships should happen all year round, not just during National Apprenticeship Week: we must keep this vital conversation going.

That’s not to say National Apprenticeship Week isn’t important, and effective – the people behind it work hard, and it pays off. The hashtag #NAW2018 and “National Apprenticeship Week” were both trending on Twitter throughout launch day, for example, demonstrating how people all over the UK engaged with the campaign. The Royal Mail created a #NAW2018 postmark, used on all post sent during the week, helping to spread the message ‘IRL’, not just on our social media feeds and computer screens.

International Women’s Day fell during the campaign too, and so the week also saw an inspiring apprenticeships work for women event take place at the National Gallery in London, celebrating the positive impact of female apprentices in workplaces. MPs, business leaders, apprentices and teachers were among the 200 attendees celebrating female apprentices. The event closed with calls for the audience to continue to press for more to be done on gender inequality in the workplace: this is another achievement of #NAW2018.

Diversity was celebrated too: the Apprenticeship Diversity Champions Network (ADCN) elebrated its first year of passionately championing apprenticeships and diversity amongst employers. The event included guest speakers from big business and media, demonstrating how people are getting behind the cause of diversifying the apprentice workforce.

Sue Husband, director of the National Apprenticeship Service work shadowed some Department for Education apprentices, to find out more about their role in the public sector. She was also interviewed by Julia Hartley-Brewer on TalkRadio about National Apprenticeship Week and why apprenticeships are important to individuals, employers, local communities and the economy, while Apprenticeships and Skills Minister Anne Milton attended a YBS Group Northern Power House event in Bradford, before travelling to ASDA House in Leeds to meet apprentices. People have been getting out there, emphasising the importance of apprenticeships, not just in London and not just the private sector.

All this is positive, but to stop it just being a temporary boost or a mere back-slapping exercise, we need to keep the conversation going all year round.

Last year was a bit of a wobbly one for apprenticeships.

Despite the Apprenticeship Levy being introduced to encourage more programmes and greater uptake, the early numbers paint a less clear trajectory.

Between February and April 2017, there was an increase in apprenticeship starts compared to the same point a year earlier (174,100 and 118,800 respectively) – an increase of 47%.

But between May and July 2017 apprenticeship starts decreased to 43,600 from 113,000 over the same period in the year before – a decrease of 61%.

Overall, there were 494,900 apprenticeship starts in 2016/17—a fall of 3% since 2015/16, when there were 509,400.

A number of business groups have criticised the design of the levy. For example, the EEF has said the levy is too complex and has proved difficult for employers to access funds in time. Some others have been more positive but say there needs to be greater awareness of the new system.

While the kinks in funding are being ironed out, it’s more important than ever to keep up the momentum of the apprenticeship message to young people, not just during one week in March, but throughout the year.

That’s why events like AllAboutSchoolLeavers annual School Leaver Awards are so important: they project a positive message about the apprenticeship opportunities out there for young people, and provide a basis for them to make informed decisions about what they want to do next.

This week we revealed the finalists in our sixth annual ranking of the UK’s top employers for school leavers. The shortlist, based on the real-life experiences of apprentices and school leaver trainees from 100 UK organisations, features high profile names from the arts and media, professional services industry, the world of construction and engineering, retail giants, and even city councils.

They’ve all been nominated for their exemplary work in developing school leaver opportunities: Intermediate Apprenticeships, Advanced Apprenticeships, Higher Apprenticeships, Degree Apprenticeships and school leaver programmes.

Young people working in the school leaver training world were asked to complete employee satisfaction surveys, covering every aspect of their working lives, from job satisfaction and career progression, to company culture and work/life balance – from these surveys we get our rankings and (later in the year) our winners.

For the first time a Top Employer in Media & the Arts is being awarded – a sign of how varied apprenticeships and other school leaver opportunities have become – as well as the new Diversity & Inclusion Award. Categories like this demonstrate to young people how many more industries and employers are embracing apprenticeships, and how the school leaver market is aligning with the graduate one, taking issues like diversity as seriously as any other type of recruitment.

The winners of the School Leaver Awards will be announced at an awards ceremony in May, and the results will add to the national apprenticeships conversation, keeping momentum going and helping young people identify the best apprenticeships out there. Similarly, the National Apprenticeship Awards takes place in January, and the AAC Awards takes place in March.

Those working in careers education should use initiatives like these to keep young people engaged with apprenticeships all year round, not just one week a year.

Emma Finamore, Editor, AllAboutSchoolLeavers.co.uk

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