When it comes to helping young people decide upon their future education or career options, schools are on the frontline. And, with more options and more competition than ever before, it is crucial for teachers and school staff to ensure that every student has the information they need to choose the option that is right for them.
Despite the number of apprentices rising to more than 510,000 in 2012/13, there still remains a cloud of uncertainty about Apprenticeships, school-leaver programmes and all aspects of work experience for 16 to 24-year-olds.
A number of misconceptions continue to rear their heads about Apprenticeships – myths that could potentially deter advisors from raising them as viable career options. But what can be done? How can we take a step forward and provide young people with information about the variety of opportunities out there that can all potentially steer them towards employment?
The first step is to dispel those myths and highlight why Apprenticeships and school-leaver programmes can in fact be just as good, if not better, than the university route. So let’s bust some myths.
Myth 1: Apprenticeships are only available for blue-collar jobs
While a number of careers exist that are limited to those with a professional university degree, such as medicine, there are now more than 250 different types of Apprenticeship available. Among these, there are more than 1,400 job roles, ranging from accountancy to textiles, engineering to veterinary nursing, and business administration to construction.
At RateMyApprenticeship, we work with well-known companies such as EY, PwC and Jaguar Land Rover, to name just three, which offer a wealth of different programme options. Furthermore, through our website, we have seen reviews posted from students in industries such as FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) and retail, banking and finance, engineering and manufacturing, health, science and pharmaceuticals, business, IT and telecommunications, accountancy, legal and law – so there are plenty of opportunities out there. And students are definitely taking advantage of these as our list of the top 30 employers of apprentices and school-leavers proves – these 30 companies and organisations currently have an intake of 7,754 young people across their programmes.
Myth 2: Apprenticeships are not for high-calibre students
Apprenticeships or school-leaver programmes are purely an alternative to the university route to employment, they are not a second-rate option. Many students are accepted onto school-leaver programmes or Apprenticeships because they have demonstrated that they are career-focused and want to enter the world of work immediately. In fact, many schemes also have their own UCAS point entry requirements which candidates are required to meet.
This means that companies involved with these qualifications are looking to bring the best candidates into their business at an earlier stage, often meaning that the students learn important skills which in turn can dramatically increase their employability.
University isn’t always the right choice for young people and Apprenticeships and school-leaver programmes offer an important and valuable alternative to those who might be looking for something a little more suited to them and their career goals.
It is not a one-size-fits-all approach, however, and there are a variety of different programmes available to school-leavers with different requirements, different timescales and different progression plans.
Myth 3: University students have better career prospects
It is a common assumption that a university degree can put young people in a much stronger position when seeking entry-level positions. However, apprentices report that many of their peer equivalents are struggling to get jobs, and with competition among graduates increasing, it doesn’t look likely that this problem will be resolved soon. In fact, the success rate is currently 1:12 for an Apprenticeship against 1:57 for a graduate position. Meanwhile, within our top 30 employers of Apprenticeships and school-leavers, which include companies such as Accenture, Barclays, IBM and Virgin Media, the average retention rate is 91 per cent.
Myth 4: Apprentices are disadvantaged because they do not have a degree
Apprenticeships and school-leaver programmes can offer young people a wealth of different qualifications and training. Many schemes offer foundation degrees and degrees as part of the programme, so young people can get their degree while working at a company and applying the skills they are learning.
The different levels of Apprenticeships offer varying levels of qualifications, and information on each is given by companies during recruitment.
Another benefit of Apprenticeships and school-leaver programmes is that young people can learn the soft skills that employers are increasingly looking for. For instance, Capgemini apprentices receive 16 weeks of training at the beginning of the programme to help the young people develop soft skills, such as time-management and networking.
Advice for schools
The first piece of advice we would give teachers and school careers advisors is to research and brush-up on the plethora of government guidelines and initiatives when it comes to Apprenticeship and non-university routes. Information can be easily found online, including details of the levels of Apprenticeship and school-leaver programmes available to young people.
In our experience, inviting past students and businesses in to talk about the opportunities available is one of the most effective ways of providing students with the information they need.
Past students can be particularly valuable as they speak from experience, and since they are a similar age, current students are much more likely to listen and take notice.
Speaking to employers is an important process as it will give students an introduction to the professional environments and sectors in which they work. Furthermore, we have found that businesses are increasingly receptive to approaches from teachers. Schools and colleges can also invite RateMyApprenticeship in to talk to students.
Consider also organising visits to companies so that students can see first-hand where they could work and meet those who have made the decision to take an Apprenticeship or join a school-leaver programme with that company.
Elsewhere, there is now a wealth of online communities that can offer additional resources, and these can be used by both careers advisors and students to help when researching the available options.
Advice should not be given just to the students. Often, parents are not aware of all the possibilities open to their children. So think about hosting sessions with parents as well as children to educate them about the different career entry options, whether that be through presentations with employers, external organisations or past students.
It is important to remember that parents are often the key influence on young people’s decisions, so they should not be overlooked when offering careers advice.
Historically, Apprenticeships have not been valued alongside university degrees, but perceptions are changing and school careers advice should change in parallel. University is not right for everyone and it is important to educate young people about all the options available to them so that they can consider whether an alternative route will suit them and their career aspirations.