Changing perceptions: Why apprenticeships lose out to A-Levels

For many students who received their GCSE results last week an apprenticeship won’t be the next step. This has to change.
Dan Rees, Operations Director at Central YMCA
Sign saying exam room

Another year, another set of GCSE results. As millions of young people woke up last week to learn their fate, stories circled in the media about the biggest year-on-year decline in grades. Right now there will be many young people all across the UK wondering just what their future holds.

It's a shame then, that it looks like they won't be in possession of all the facts.

Earlier this month research conducted by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) and the EY Foundation revealed that out of 1,510 16- to 21-year-olds surveyed, 86% had received guidance from their schools about going to university, while less than half (48%) said they had received information on taking an apprenticeship.

Even more worrying, more than 40 per cent said they had concerns about the perceived low status of apprenticeships while two-thirds were worried about salaries being too low.

Only one in four said they believed an apprenticeship could leave them with a better chance at getting a job than a university degree. (This is despite the fact that some higher level apprenticeships are equivalent to a masters – higher than a bachelors degree).

This is a big blow, not just for apprentice providers, but also for the young people who are missing out on making the most of their potential.

As one of the country's largest providers of apprenticeships through our operation YMCA Training, we urge schools to promote the benefits of apprenticeships more effectively.

Often apprenticeships are overlooked as a career option, or even dismissed as they pose competition for the funding associated with the learner.

In the 2015 report titled 'English Apprenticeships: Our 2020 Vision', the government set out a bold vision that included young people seeing apprenticeships as a "high quality and prestigious path to successful careers". Yet despite the continued improvement of apprenticeship schemes – and their increased popularity – we still need better engagement between schools and local businesses to prepare young people for work and training.

In a blog post Central YMCA’s Chief Executive Rosi Prescott posted earlier this year, she pointed out the collective need for us to identify which jobs industry is crying out for and then educate young people in these areas.

"Last year," she wrote, "the CIOB (Chartered Institute of Building) highlighted the need for 182,000 construction jobs to be filled by 2018, and yet, just 7,280 people completed construction apprenticeships in 2013. There’s a clear gap between the talent we need, compared to the apprenticeships being taken in those fields."

At Central YMCA, we believe that by answering the needs of businesses with the right apprenticeships will have the added benefit of leading to their improved perception among school learners.

We're working hard to bring about these changes.

A Levels might be the right choice for some young people, but it's time more was invested in learning and development that is actually right for that individual – and we believe that apprenticeships hold the key.

The introduction of the government's Apprenticeship Levy (which comes into force from 6 April 2017) and mandatory co-financing agreements for the majority of SME's are positive steps towards improving the perception of apprenticeships and their value to businesses. They will also help position apprenticeships as a true alternative to college and university enabling young people to gain valuable career driven skills and knowledge without running up thousands of pounds worth of debt.

Central YMCA, through our operation YMCA Training, is well placed to help support employers and learners understand how apprenticeship reforms will affect them and help debunk the myths and misunderstanding often currently seen in the press.

If you have been tasked with considering your businesses’ strategy for apprenticeships we can help.

Whilst a number of details are still to be confirmed by the government, there is certainly enough information to begin your planning now.

YMCA Training are able to support you with reviewing your businesses’ talent strategy as a whole (graduates, apprentices and internal talent/development schemes) across all divisions and functions, with a view to designing new propositions that are interconnected.

Dan Rees

Operations Director at Central YMCA