From education to employment

Generation Apprentice: Changing attitudes to apprenticeships as students, parents and employers see more value

Despite the number of new apprenticeship starts in Britain falling last year, new research released from leading business and financial adviser Grant Thornton UK LLP, ahead of National Apprenticeship Week (5-9 March), finds that attitudes towards apprenticeship programmes are becoming more positive.

According to provisional government statistics released in February 2018*, apprenticeship starts for the first quarter of the 2017/18 academic year decreased by 26.5% compared to figures reported at this time in 2016/17. However, the decrease was not as large as the drop between quarter 4 2015/16 and quarter 4 2016/17.

Encouragingly, the ‘Generation Apprentice’ report from Grant Thornton suggests there is an ongoing evolution in the way apprenticeships are viewed, with more employers, young people and parents recognising apprenticeship programmes as a valuable route in to a successful career.

The research report, which surveyed 1,000 young people (aged 16-25) and 1,000 parents (of under 18s), revealed that:

  • 77% of young people and 79% of parents think that apprenticeships offer good career prospects
  • Almost half (42%) of young people think apprenticeships and university degrees have the same value
  • 45% of parents think a university degree delivers less value than it used to
  • Two thirds (60%) of young people think that you do not need to go to university to get a well-paid job
  • Half (51%) of the young respondents who are currently at university do not believe their degree guarantees them a well-paid job.

The report also investigated the attitudes of 500 UK employers that qualify for the Apprenticeship Levy (those with a pay bill of more than £3 million).

The employer findings, developed in partnership with City & Guilds, showed a similarly positive sentiment about hiring apprentices, as providing training on the job also enables organisations to meet the skills requirements of their business in an agile and flexible way.

  • Half of the employers surveyed said that they plan to recruit more apprentices than they do now in the next five years.
  • 79% say the Apprenticeship Levy has encouraged them to hire more apprentices than they would have done otherwise.
  • 77% of employers most agreed with positive statements about the Apprenticeship Levy. They most agreed that:
    • Apprenticeship quality will increase because of the Levy (30%)
    • It’s a great way to get employers to pay for training (25%)
    • The Levy gives employers more control (22%)

Keely Woodley, Partner and Head of Grant Thornton’s Human Capital Practice, said:

“This changing attitude represents an evolution in the expectations of young people and parents when it comes to learning beyond school. Add in high university tuition fees and rising living costs and it becomes clear why those looking at higher education options are increasingly seeing apprenticeships and other earn as you learn routes, as a positive route in to a successful career.

“For employers, navigating the Apprenticeship Levy and the wider changes to the apprenticeship system is challenging, but they should be exploring opportunities to think laterally about talent development approaches. Employers can use apprenticeships to both tap into new talent pools and to upskill existing people. As an example, in partnership with Cranfield Business School, we recently launched the first Executive MBA programme to use the Apprenticeship Levy.   Our firm provides the opportunity for our people to apply for this MBA.  

“In our blueprint for the UK, Shaping a Vibrant Economy, we suggested that there is a need to incentivise collaboration between employers and education providers. This includes creating a new school performance measure for every pupil to have at least one interaction with an employer every year, and encouraging universities and business schools to offer graduate level apprenticeships that can be paid for using Apprenticeship Levy contributions.

“We also believe that employers should be involved in the design, delivery and teaching of these courses. The recently launched Level 7 Accountancy Trailblazer Standard is an example of a programme specifically created through collaboration between employers, training providers and accountancy institutes. We played a lead role in the development of this and have recently implemented across entry-level routes. Other employers can take advantage of this Standard through our partnership with specialist training provider Babington Group.”

Apprenticeships and Skills Minister Anne Milton said:

“I’m very pleased young people are recognising that apprenticeships give good career prospects, and that their families agree. This survey shows employers are feeling more and more positive about apprenticeships, hiring more apprentices and offering more high quality courses to train their future workforces. All of this is good news for young people, businesses and the country.”

Kirstie Donnelly MBE, Managing Director City & Guilds Group, said:

“In recent months we have seen numerous press reports regarding drops in apprenticeship starts since the introduction of the levy. However, we can see from this research that the majority of employers now say that the levy has actually encouraged them to recruit more apprentices than they otherwise would have done and that half intend to hire even more in the next five years. Just one year in, this is an encouraging start to embedding the new apprenticeship system in England.

“I believe that we will see this trend continue in the coming years as employers become more knowledgeable about how to utilise their levy to meet their skills needs and confidence amongst young people and parents continue to grow. Ultimately, employer support of the apprenticeship system is crucial and if it is supported effectively will result in the UK having a strong well-developed apprenticeship system that will rival any in the world.”

Whilst the attitudes of young people, parents and employers are evolving, the quality of advice and support for young people looking to undertake further and higher education is not keeping pace.

The research showed that over two-thirds (68%) of young people say the career advice they receive is not good. Young people say that the main sources of career information are online (46%), teachers (22%) and parents (17%).

Lady Cobham CBE, Director General of The 5% Club, a dynamic movement of employers focused on creating momentum behind the recruitment of apprentices, sponsored students and graduates into the workforce, said:

“The 5% Club’s recent research report, ‘Fulfilling our potential’, also found that parents felt the quality of careers advice offered by schools is inadequate. While young people are supported and steered towards applying to university, there is no equivalent support mechanism for those looking to apply for alternatives such as apprenticeships. As Grant Thornton’s research shows, parents are also at a loss as to where to find the relevant information to advise their children and there needs to be a renewed focus on improving careers advice.

“Apprenticeships offer a job with professional training, give young people valuable experience whilst also achieving national qualifications – and they get paid throughout the entire process. Apprenticeships are now available for all levels, up to and including degree and masters’ level and are a fantastic way to build a meaningful career. The introduction of a UCAS style clearing house for apprenticeships would really help to increase awareness of the opportunities offered from this career path.”

At Grant Thornton, around 15% of the firm’s 4,751 people are currently in earn and learn development programmes and around 6% are using apprenticeships. Today the firm is announcing a further commitment to workplace training by joining The 5% Club.

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