Better IAG on Apprenticeships is vital for young people choosing future careers

6 March 2014

Last night I was privileged to attend a reception hosted by the Deputy Prime Minister, to promote the benefits and value of careers to girls and women in Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths and Medicine (STEM).

As I was about to leave, a group of girls in school uniform came bounding up to me, looked at my name badge and said, “You’re from the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education. Should I do an apprenticeship or go to university?”

This had been the focus of discussions all evening. Although most work functions that I attend are dominated by education and employment professionals, this event was refreshingly full of young women who are currently involved in, or had recently completed, a STEM apprenticeship, alongside groups of teenage girls in school uniform with challenging questions about what they should do next.

As apprentices shared their experiences, one of the most common narratives focused not around their choice of STEM roles, nor around the challenges of being a woman in this environment, but in the lack of support – and sometimes opposition – they experienced at school to choosing an apprenticeship over a university education.

One young woman, who had already completed several years as an engineering apprentice at BAE systems and was now being supported by them to undertake a degree, explained that her grammar school had regularly run seminars to prepare students for university life, while those interested in apprenticeships were “sent to the library to revise”. Others spoke of a lack of information and advice about apprenticeships or of being made to feel like an educational failure for not pursuing a university education.

In his keynote, Nick Clegg re-iterated the announcements he made earlier in the week to support young people into work – and called for more apprentices and employers to get into schools to talk about apprenticeships. As an articulate and passionate female apprentice from Rolls Royce took the stage, the question from the floor was “What single change could politicians make to get more girls into apprenticeships?” The answer given, to rapturous applause, was to get more information and better advice about apprenticeships into schools.

Of course, this is not just about STEM, nor is it just about the careers of women and girls. All young people need access to high quality information, advice and guidance about the learning opportunities on offer if they are to make good decisions about their future careers. I hope that the focus on this issue during this years’ National Apprenticeship Week ensures that it becomes a reality for many more young people.