In the last fortnight, more than a million GCSE and A-level students have collected their exam results and many will now be moving onto the next stage of education. Of course, the well-established further and higher education routes will dominate the choices made. Yet, too few young people and their parents are aware of exciting new options, such as higher degree apprenticeships. As the skills gap grows, and the prospect of massive graduate debt is deterring more people from pursuing higher education, we need to fix this lack of awareness.
In our recent survey of 1,004 parents of 11-18-year old children, we found that only one in five had any knowledge of degree apprenticeships. Worryingly, the research showed that while a quarter of parents from the most highly-educated and highest paid social groups were familiar with degree apprenticeships, this fell to just one in 10 among parents from lower socio-economic bands.
We know that parents are the primary source of careers advice for young people, so how do we raise awareness, change outdated perceptions of apprenticeships and reach out to those less privileged families likely to benefit from them most?
A starting point would be to ensure that all parents know the answer to a simpler question: Why should my child consider a degree apprenticeship?
Promoting understanding and getting people talking about these programmes will inevitably raise their stock among families. The brief answer is that programmes such as the Chartered Management Degree Apprenticeship enable students to work in paid roles while studying for a degree in a number of professional fields – effectively earning while they learn. The tuition fees are paid by employers via the new Apprenticeship Levy, and students are able to develop qualities from a young age that will help turn them into tomorrow’s leaders.
To communicate this message, we need the support of teachers and careers advisers, fully briefed on the benefits of degree apprenticeships, yet evidence suggests we are failing to put them a level playing field with traditional degrees. In our own research of 16-21 year-olds, carried out with the EY Foundation, 86% said they had been given guidance from their schools about going to university, but just 48% had received advice on apprenticeships.
The limited information on offer to students is also having a negative impact on their views of apprenticeships and possibly reinforcing old stereotypes, with 67% associating apprenticeships with low pay. This is simply not the case anymore; according to government estimates, a degree apprentice could actually earn up to £150,000 more over the course of their career than other graduates.
The stakes are high, not just for students and schools, but for employers as well. A study earlier this month said that a third of firms are unhappy with graduates’ attitude to work, while according to our own research, 65% of employers say graduates lack the interpersonal skills necessary to manage people. There’s no doubt that most people benefit greatly from university in terms of their future salary and career prospects, but it is clearly not setting all graduates up with work-ready skills. Apprenticeships are a great way to plug this gap – instilling both leadership and management qualities in people while also giving them responsibility from a young age, and a head-start in their chosen career.
Raising awareness of degree apprenticeships will require schools and colleges to shift their focus, while universities, schools and colleges also need to collaborate better in their promotion of these courses. All should be making a concerted effort to open up the eyes of young people to the fact that the traditional degree route isn’t their only higher education option. As participation begins to drop in response to burdening fees, we need to start shouting about degree apprenticeships. We owe it to the thousands of bright youngsters in danger of missing out.