How can we make apprenticeships more accessible?

Robert Halfon and Judith Doyle are absolutely right to highlight that we need to ensure young people are equipped with the skills needed for the future economy. Our current curriculum is out-dated; the Ebacc subjects are identical to the curriculum schools taught in 1904. Both Halfon and Doyle say we should be, “helping children to explore more about the arts or the world of engineering.”

In 2017 Nesta published The Future of Skills: Employment in 2030, which found that current occupations predicted to decline due to automation could instead adapt and grow if new skills were combined with the existing skill set. Nesta ranked the skills with the greatest benefits and broadly found they mapped to what are called ‘21st-century skills’ – communication, problem-solving, team working. Subjects such as art, drama, music and Design and Technology lend themselves very well to developing these kinds of aptitudes.

The creative economy, which accounts for one in 11 jobs in the UK (DCMS, 2016), needs a pipeline of talent to continue performing at its peak, especially if it is to continue to be an engine of growth and drive our soft diplomacy in a post-Brexit era. Already the UK skills shortage list includes a range of jobs related to visual effects and 2D/3D computer animation for the film, television and video games sectors.

But clearly the impact is broader as the skills which studying arts subjects can help to develop are not just the specific skills needed by our very successful creative industries, but can be applied in all kinds of professions. Indeed, these are the skills employers repeatedly tell us they are looking for, above academic qualifications.

In the first of our quarterly Skills Shortages bulletin, Edge reported that the UK will need 203,000 people with Level 3+ engineering skills per year to meet expected demand.

Giving students the opportunity to study a broader curriculum will help them with future decisions. Rob and Judith’s article mentioned that one in four students who begin their A levels do not manage to complete or pass their first year. These students may have been inspired by a subject offered in the broader curriculum and chosen something which inspired them or they had a passionate interest in. And of course we always excel at the things we find most interesting or enjoy.

However, we can’t rely solely on secondary school intervention and a broader curriculum. Edge believes that age-appropriate careers information should be at the heart of the curriculum from primary school, are a proud supporter of Primary Futures. Education & Employers’ Drawing the Future report revealed that gender stereotyping about jobs is set from a young age and the patterns of jobs chosen by seven-year-olds mirror those selected by 17-year olds.

Over the past few years we have seen more young people opting for apprenticeships, but teachers often say that these young people can face a lot of opposition from their families when they say they’re taking a route other than A Levels or university. The perception of parents and carers persists that a degree is the golden ticket to a career and secure, well-paid employment.

Sadly, we know this isn’t always the case. Three in five graduates are in jobs that don’t require a degree and they earn less five years after graduating, than apprentices do two years after finishing their training.

Applying to university is the default in many schools and I think if there were a similar system for apprenticeships, it would be much easier for young people to consider that as an option. I am very supportive of the idea of a UCAS-styled portal for post 16 further education which I wrote about in my essay for the Learning and Work Institute’s Learning & Work, All Change: Where next for apprenticeships?Published earlier this year.

The process of applying to attend somewhere new, either a college or a training provider, can be confusing as well as scary. A well designed portal could explain each option in detail and give advice on how and where to apply. The portal would also make signing up for apprenticeships easier and more managed, as this can currently be a lengthy process and students taking GCSEs already have a lot to focus on.

If the government is serious about meeting its three million apprenticeship target, then it needs to be a more accessible option.

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