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This week’s ISE Annual Student Recruitment Survey 2018 demonstrates a number of things that schools, employers and government should take another look at when it comes to apprentice recruitment.

For example, the report shows some of the issues employers have engaging with schools and colleges – and therefore with school leavers, potential apprentices – and raises questions about how this could be improved.

Employers getting into schools and meeting students forms part of the Gatsby Benchmarks (Number 5 – ‘Encounters with employers and employees’), which have been underwritten by central government, when they were included as a central part of the Education Strategy 2018.

Implementing this is proving easier said than done: the report shows just 2,500 individual school visits from some of the biggest UK employers. We also know (from the Gatsby Benchmarks) that meaningful engagement with professionals outside school is essential to increasing the employability of young people, but well under half of respondents offered work experience to students (40%) or mentored students (34%).

The report also shows how employers struggle to resource recruitment activities: around half of employers (54%) are actively trying to reduce the costs incurred during hiring. On average, ISE survey respondents have a team of around six people to run their recruitment, typically supplemented with three external staff. In addition to the cost of staffing, employers are also spending an average of £2,189 for each new hire.

Engaging with schools is also expensive and time-consuming. Employers surveyed in 2018 by AllAboutSchoolLeavers said they made an average of 33 school visits per year, at a cost of £192 per visit. The same research – which will be published in full at the School Leaver Conference 2018 in October – shows that it takes employers an average of over 8 hours 30 minutes to build a relationship with a school: multiple visits are required to build a real partnership.

Could these pressures be alleviated by a change in the strict rules around the Apprenticeship Levy? According to the ISE report, employers are typically only spending 15% of what’s available to them.

 The government guidelines say employers “can only use funds in your account to pay for apprenticeship training and assessment for apprentices”, but if this was amended then perhaps employers could use those funds for school engagement.

This would help stop that 85% in the funding pot going to waste, while also addressing many of the issues raised by the report.

Another potential way funding costs could be reduced – and more schools engaged with – is if employers streamlined their school leaver recruitment campaigns, made them more in line with graduate ones.

The report says that employers use a similar set of recruitment and selection activities for graduates and apprentices, but that apprenticeship recruitment is organised differently to graduate recruitment.

Considering the different ages that typical graduates and school leavers, and the different range of experiences they’ve had – should apprentice employers reconsider this approach, and put more effort into methods that help younger people improve their basic employability and communication skills?

And – given that school leavers operate on an academic year calendar like university students, and benefit from being helped with the job application process in school (as many university applicants are helped with UCAS applications in school) – should employers consider bringing apprenticeship recruitment more in-line with that of graduate programmes?

This could be beneficial to young people, but also to employers, who the report said are struggling with the costs of recruitment drives.

Respondents to the ISE survey said that, while a single campaign was still the most popular approach, it was far more common to organise this kind of recruitment in an ad hoc or rolling style for apprenticeship recruitment than it was for graduates.

The report also said there was less of a pattern to exactly when recruitment campaigns for apprentices opened and closed, and when employers were most likely to be making offers. The more “fluid” nature of apprenticeship recruitment means that this is sometimes managed in a more reactive fashion than graduate recruitment, which is generally planned on an annual cycle.

This reactive approach might not be the best for either employers or young people: the report questions whether it responds to business need or the availability of students. It says that the process of business planning and managing apprenticeship campaigns is new ground compared to the recruitment process for graduates and could benefit from further research to help establish practice.

With businesses all over the UK still trying to get their heads around the Apprenticeship Levy, and schools and government – at least on paper – wanting more young people to take up apprenticeships, it could be worth people from all three groups looking at the questions raised by the ISE report, and trying to answer them.

Emma Finamore, Editor, AllAboutSchoolLeavers.co.uk

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