Apprentices are reporting more positive experiences with small and medium sized employers (SMEs), an influential national survey of apprenticeship experiences has revealed.
The findings are part of a new report setting out the learning and assessment experiences of more than 2,000 apprentices that has been published today.
An impressive 92% of all respondents felt the employer-defined knowledge, skills, and behaviours they are required to learn through their apprenticeship would equip them to succeed in the future, while 80% said they felt empowered to have successful careers in their industry.
Taking a closer look at experiences with SMEs, it emerged that:
- 75% of apprentices working in an SME said they had a manageable workload compared with 68% overall.
- 82% of apprentices at SMEs said they felt their employers would be willing to make adjustments to meet their individual needs, compared with 78% overall.
- 78% of apprentices working in an SME said their training provider was supporting their wellbeing compared to 70% overall.
- On induction to the apprenticeship, 90% of SME apprentices thought their employer induction was useful compared with 85% overall.
- 64% of apprentices working in an SME were positive about how successfully their employers and training providers worked together, compared with 53% overall.
Apprentices were also asked about the type of training they received, in the context of society opening out again from Covid-19. 81% of respondents overall said they would ideally like at least half of their training to be face-to-face (rather than online). 60% reported receiving that much training in person.
The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education’s (IfATE) Panel of Apprentices, who represent the views of learners to apprenticeship policy makers, designed the survey and will use the responses to inform which issues they pursue over the next year.
The following recommendations have been drawn up by apprentices serving on the panel in response to survey responses:
- Do more to make sure employers support apprentices’ wellbeing, including wellbeing in homeworking settings: At a time when they are juggling learning, assessment, and the need to do a good job, working remotely can be an additional cause of stress. Employers have a duty of care to ensure that apprentices have the resources and support they need to learn and work effectively and safely – whether from home or the office.
- Strengthen apprentice, employer, and training provider engagement with the commitment statement, making it a more meaningful guarantee and reference point for apprenticeship quality: Commitment statements should have the same status as contractual documents; they should be set out and agreed in a meeting between the apprentice, employer, and training provider at the very start of the apprenticeship so that expectations are clear from day one.
- Improve access to information about apprentice networks and other sources of support for prospective and current apprentices: More should be done to improve signposting to – or ideally create a single hub for – all relevant sources of information, guidance, and support for prospective and current apprentices.
- Require employers to be more transparent about the balance of online and face-to-face training and support they offer to their apprentices: When recruiting apprentices, employers should be required to explicitly state, in the job description, the balance of online and face-to-face training and support they offer; this will enable prospective apprentices to choose an apprenticeship – and level of in-person contact – that works for them, and give apprentices a measure for the kind of experience their training providers and employers should be delivering.
- Limit travel costs incurred by apprentices required to attend face-to-face training at locations remote from their place of work: Where an employer chooses to use a training provider located some distance from the apprentice’s place of work and/or the apprentice would incur significant costs to travel to that location, the employer should be required, or strongly encouraged, to make a commitment to cover the apprentice’s travel costs in full or over and above an agreed amount; that commitment should be included in recruitment information and in the commitment statement agreed at the start of the apprenticeship.
- Undertake further research into the differences between the experiences of SME apprentices and apprentices who work for larger corporations: IfATE, working with the apprentice panel, should undertake or commission further research to better understand the different experiences of apprentices in SME and larger corporate settings with a view to identifying strategies and approaches that would benefit the wider community of apprentices.
Jennifer Coupland, chief executive of IfATE, said:
“We welcome the report and it’s encouraging to see lots of positive experiences apprentices reported across the country. It’s really interesting that apprentices with SMEs seemed to be having a lot of the best experiences. That will boost IfATE’s drive to get many more smaller businesses signed up with apprenticeships.”
She added: “IfATE will take all the panel’s recommendations extremely seriously and work closely with the Department for Education (DfE) to address them. We recognise the need for many employers and training providers to work a lot more closely together to fulfil commitment statements, provide great training, and support the welfare and wellbeing of apprentices.
Less than 40% of apprenticeships are currently with smaller employers and IfATE is asking many more SMEs to help with design and updating apprenticeships to make sure they work really well for them and boost engagement.
Amy Marren, an apprentice panel member who is a solicitor apprentice and former Paralympian, said:
“A survey like this is important as it gives a true insight to each individual apprentice and their apprenticeship experience. As the survey covers the entire apprenticeship journey it also provides a full timeline of what the programme looks likes, highlighting areas where the experience is positive and also identifying areas that require improvement. Apprentices should feel confident in completing it that they are helping to better shape the programmes and routes of the future.
She added: “I think the recommendations cover a good range of issues currently faced by apprentices from all routes. My biggest concern is that there is not enough transparency surrounding the balance of online and face-to-face teaching. This is because I think apprentices should be aware of what their programme requirements, and what is expected from them before applying for their apprenticeship to ensure they find a programme that suits their preference and needs.
Arjun Rai, a project manager apprentice who helps to lead the Panel of Apprentices, said:
“I’m proud of the survey and the recommendations we’ve produced. It came as a little bit of a surprise, at first, that apprentices seem to be happiest overall with SMEs, but it made sense once we sat down and thought about it. I think lots of apprentices have a great experience with big companies but you can get a bit lost among a massive workforce – so the government and employers should think more about how to stop that happening. Apprentices with small businesses are more likely to have that day-to-day contact with their managers who will know what they’re going through and need.
“Online learning was something that had to happen more through the pandemic and lockdowns, but it’s time to remind everyone that face-to-face training is still massively important. You can usually have much quicker interaction with your tutors, rather than having to wait a couple of days sometimes for feedback online. Going into a classroom and interacting with teachers and fellow apprentices is also much better for developing quick thinking and the sort of social skills you have to develop to succeed at work. The other thing that really stood out to me from the survey results was the need to make sure apprentices get the support they need from their networks. We’ve found that apprentices can feel isolated at work, if there aren’t others at their company, and many don’t know how to link up and share experiences with other apprentices. It should be more like university where you learn and socialise together.
The survey carried out earlier this year received just over 2,000 responses. It followed up on the Panel’s 2020 survey, which was its first ever and received around 1,000 responses. This led to publication with IfATE’s support of comprehensive guidance for employers, training providers and apprentices on delivering a quality apprenticeship.
Titled Raising the Standards, the guidance was written by panel members, who will now update it following latest survey responses. It covers key areas impacting on apprentices including induction, training, preparation for end point assessment, welfare, and wellbeing, and how the partnership should work between employers, training providers, end point assessment organisations, and apprentices.
Peter Mucklow, DfE Director of Apprenticeships, said:
“I am pleased that considerable progress has been made on the issues raised by apprentices in the 2020 survey. This new survey identifies key areas to improve as we continue to raise the quality of apprenticeships, such as ensuring training is delivered in a way that best supports the apprentice to learn and strengthening collaboration between the employer and training provider for the benefit of the apprentice. My thanks to the panel for producing this survey report and to the apprentices who contributed.”
List of recommendations that followed the 2020 survey and actions taken since:
Recommendation 1: Adequate preparation for end point assessment (EPA) should be defined and made compulsory in the delivery of apprenticeship standards
- IfATE’s Panel of Apprentices made preparation for end point assessment a key part of their Raising the Standards guidance which soon will be updated again in response to the 2022 survey report.
- DfE produced a set of best practice guidance for different parties around end-point assessment that was published on gov.uk
Recommendation 2: More steps should be taken to ensure that apprentices receive their entitlement to 20% off-the-job training during their apprenticeship
- Compliance with the minimum off-the-job training requirement is taken very seriously and where insufficient training has been delivered or evidence for this training is lacking, funding for the whole training programme for the relevant apprentice is at risk. This risk has been further clarified in the funding rules.
- The minimum off-the-job training requirement for full-time apprentices has been simplified to 6 hours a week on average (or 20% of 30 hours a week). This will make it easier for providers to calculate and deliver a compliant programme and for apprentices to check whether they’re getting the right amount of training.
- A funding monitoring report was introduced which highlights apprentices who, according to the government database, may not be receiving sufficient training to meet the requirement while they’re still on programme. This is used by providers and the ESFA to monitor compliance.
Recommendation 3: Define best practice in delivering apprenticeship training and ensure that all training providers and employers deliver on- and off-the-job training to at least a minimum defined level
- Raising the Standards now provides apprentice-led best practice guidance on training, welfare and wellbeing, apprenticeship inductions, and the need for a carefully managed partnership between providers, employers, end point assessment organisations and apprentices.
- DfE also published best practice guides on delivering high-quality apprenticeships: for providers and for employers.
- A new provider accountability framework was introduced in 2021 for all apprenticeship provision at all ages and applicable to all providers. This is a more timely approach to accountability for apprenticeship training providers, based on a wider range of quality indicators. The policy supports those willing and able to improve and allows timely intervention where necessary to protect the interests of apprentices. Apprentice feedback service also launched so apprentices can do likewise (see R6 below).
- A training offer was launched in 2021 for training providers on apprenticeships, delivered by the Education and Training Foundation (ETF). The next phase of the Apprenticeships Workforce Development (AWD) programme will be a blended training package that supports apprenticeship training providers and employers (and their workforce) to offer apprentices a high-quality end-to-end experience.
Recommendation 4: Minimum standards of pastoral care of apprentices by employers and training providers should be defined and delivered, recognising especially the situation of younger apprentices and those with caring responsibilities
- Guidance was published for employers on supporting young apprentices and worked with the Learning and Work Institute to develop four guides aimed at improving the apprentice experience, for employers, for line managers and for apprentices. Government is also exploring how to better support apprentices through the ‘My Apprenticeship’ portal (see R6 below).
Recommendation 5: More steps should be taken in the marketing of apprenticeships to promote the value of apprentices to employers, and apprentices’ own perceptions of the value of on-the-job learning
- DfE and IfATE have launched a campaign aimed specifically at young people. The ‘Career Starter Apprenticeships’ campaign aims to explain existing apprenticeships to young people in a way they can understand and relate to. The intention is for more young people, and their parents, to actively consider apprenticeships when making career choices.
- Starting this autumn, new webinars will be launched for SMEs to support them in their apprenticeship programmes. These webinars will be co-presented by businesses – from the Top 50 SME Apprenticeship Employers and the Apprenticeship Ambassador Network – who will share their experiences and bring invaluable advice and guidance to other employers. The programme commences in November and employers can book now for the first three:
- The Benefits of Apprenticeships: 3rd November 2022
- Recruitment & Promoting apprenticeship vacancies: 7th December 2022
- Onboarding & Induction: 11th January 2023
- Recently launched the SME Apprenticeship Brokerage Project. The brokers are tasked with finding unengaged SMEs across their areas and supporting them through their apprenticeship journey with quality at the heart of this service. They will be leading the SMEs through the various stages of recruiting an apprentice, covering everything from levy transfers to how to recruit efficiently to finding an appropriate training provider, with a focus on of the following sectors: Construction, Digital, Adult Social Care & Manufacturing.:
Recommendation 6: Create a strengthened commitment statement that places more emphasis on quality of apprenticeship delivery, to hold training providers and employers to account and to assist in meeting the recommendations above.
Since August 2021, all new apprentices are invited to create an account on the Apprenticeship Service, to access a growing range of services under the ‘My Apprenticeship’ portal. This is the first time that a direct line of communication has been established with on-programme apprentices, and work is underway to explore how to maximise the opportunities that this provides to support apprentices at key points during their programme and to help prevent withdrawals.
- ‘Confirm My Apprenticeship Details’ – this was the first service to be launched in Aug 2021 and sets out a summary of the programme and the roles and responsibilities of each party in the apprenticeship: employer, provider, apprentice and end-point assessment organisation (this was a key finding from the 2020 IfATE panel survey). DfE and IFATE are currently considering whether this could be improved further.
- ‘Apprentice Feedback’ – this service launched in 2022 and we have seen lots of activity already. It works in the same way as the employer feedback mentioned above – apprentices that have registered on the ‘My Apprenticeship’ portal receive email invitations at regular intervals with a link to rate the service they are receiving from their training provider. The results will be published and used to inform continuous improvement of the programme.
- ‘Exit Survey’ – service due to launch at the end of October 2022 and will capture information from apprentices who have been marked as withdrawing from the programme. This data will provide us with valuable insight into issues affecting apprentices and in future can help to inform further improvements to the programme.