All dressed up, but (no) where to go?

9 January 2015

I recently spent some time with Year 11 students helping them to develop the ‘perfect’ CV. I was struck by how many are applying for an Apprenticeship. Many more than when I was at the same event last year. When I questioned their reasons, it was to earn money, to get a job or trade and, for some, to avoid leaving education with large debts.

We know that Apprenticeship vacancies are attracting significant numbers of applicants, which is in stark contrast to the latest figures about take-up of Apprenticeships by employers. The Employer Perspectives Survey 2014 by UKCES tells us that only 10% of employers currently have an Apprentice and only a further 5% offer Apprenticeships. At a time of great change for Apprenticeships it seems the only constant is the number of employers engaged. Not good news for the planned expansion in the number of Apprentices. Are we recreating a familiar scenario where the supply and demand are not evenly balanced?

Whilst the number of Apprentices have increased (which suggests that employers already involved are recruiting more Apprentices, rather than new employers recruiting), equality of access is a significant challenge and the quality of Apprenticeships remains variable. In 2013/14 there were 432,000 Apprenticeship starts, but over time there has been a decrease in the proportion of apprentices with a learning difficulty and/or disability. This proportion has declined from 11% in 2007 to 8% in 2013. The proportion of Black, Asian or Mixed Ethnic Apprentices has not changed and is static at around 10%. Critical equality and diversity issues which have a direct impact on Apprentices, businesses, society and the economy are not changing.

So where does this leave our demands for an Inclusive Apprenticeship, as recommended by the Little report, Creating an Inclusive Apprenticeship Offer (2012). This report provided clear ideas on how to increase the proportion of apprentices with a declared disability. In response, we developed the Employer toolkit to support accessible and inclusive Apprenticeships. It provides practical information, sources of support and inspirational case studies of employers who have benefited from hiring and supporting disabled apprentices. This shows what can be achieved, but clearly, there is much more to do.

I hope my CV tips helped the Year 11 students. Have they applied for and found an Apprenticeship? How many will find an Apprenticeship that matches their needs? Are their hopes of a good quality ‘earning while learning’ experience supported by the everyday reality. How do we ensure good vocational learning opportunities are available for all? As usual I am left with more questions than answers, so I’m looking forward to your tips or suggestions.