Ending the Debate: Students Drive Their Own Futures 

A thumbnail showing a Emily, a white women with shoulder length blonde hair, author of the 'Students Drive Their Own Futures' blog.

At the end of June, Amberjack and SFS Media hosted a panel at the 2022 ISE Conference. The session, ‘Which is best for me – Apprenticeship or Higher Education?’, focused on what drives student decision making and current trends among young people. 

Why Focus on Apprenticeships? 

Noticing the heavy focus on Graduate Recruitment in the Early Talent market, Amberjack wanted to shed more light on Apprenticeship opportunities, and discuss why they get less spotlight time than higher education and the impact that this is having on student decision making. 

Back in 2016 the Apprentice Levy was launched to tackle youth unemployment and increase commitment to apprenticeship from employers. The introduction of the levy seemed the perfect solution for providing young people with structured career opportunities. Many larger employers now offer degree apprenticeships meaning students can obtain this level of qualification without encountering the challenges of funding a degree – a potential game changer for students from lower socio-economic backgrounds. 

So, the question is, why are 79% of students (source; SFS Media Youth Voice survey) opting for Higher Education? We decided to try and find out why! 

The Discussion 

As Amberjack and SFS Media hosted the panel with current students, they bought to life the vast difference in exactly what they’re exposed to in terms of the apprenticeship and higher education routes. Organisations are having the same issues they were having when the levy was first laid out, almost six years ago. 

There is a general lack of resources and speakers going into schools to talk to students about apprenticeships and the many opportunities they can offer, but even further than this, employers aren’t tackling the differences entailed by the different populations that might consider an apprenticeship. From students simply uninterested in going to university and lower socio-economic individuals who can’t afford it, to young carers who are reluctant to move or travel far from their family; all the different factors influencing the decision to follow an apprenticeship route should be accounted for when looking to attract new talent. 

The lack of awareness that still surrounds apprenticeship opportunities is significant. In fact, our guest, Rob Archer, who works closely with students, particularly of lower socio-economic status, and mentors them on their early careers, didn’t even know that degree apprenticeships existed, and he’s not alone! When surveyed, 30% of parents and carers had no knowledge that degree apprenticeships, which allow apprentices to achieve a degree-level qualification, existed either. 

Furthermore, the false view that apprenticeships are ‘easier’ and less highly considered by employers is damning to student uptake. When actually, the consistent hard work required to achieve an apprenticeship, both during work and in your own time, is a significant effort, especially for leavers coming straight from school into work and study simultaneously. A high level of motivation is needed. 

Three Key Takeaways for Apprentice Employers 

This incredibly important session definitely provided some key takeaways for employers. Below are three lessons that stuck with us here at Amberjack, as a result of the event, for more information and further learnings you can request our Key Takeaways resource. 

Attraction 

Firstly, we found via discussion that huge emphasis should be placed on how early you are reaching out to the individuals you are trying to attract, and the methods you use to do this. 

Reaching students early is crucial. Throughout their secondary school years, young people are consistently hearing about university, the courses available, and careers they could follow as a result. This should be replicated for apprenticeships; if you want to attract students and encourage them to choose apprenticeships over university, you should be competing with universities for speaker slots and at career days, and provide schools with information about your apprenticeships, what they entail, and what they can offer. 

These students want to be sure that you care about them and understand them. Get on their level, get in their space. Think about how they will connect with your brand – would they be motivated to join you? Be honest and open about your roles – authenticity is key, and make sure they can find you. As the students on our panel highlighted, they are exposed to university marketing daily, on many different levels. Research and analyse the best channels for your organisation and be consistent! 

One of the ways you can ensure this is via representation. Showing students people like them, who have made it through your process and experienced the benefits of an apprenticeship, is absolutely critical. We’re hearing this time and time again, from Apprenticeship discussions to our Neurodiversity panel, if you want to attract someone, represent them! 

Perception 

As mentioned before, the existing perception surrounding apprenticeships is a heavy influence on their lack of uptake. However, apprenticeships are far from easy or second best. They aren’t a disadvantage to an individual’s career, in fact they’re quite the opposite. Apprenticeships are a fantastic way of gaining valuable work experience and skills whilst learning, and they are not the ‘easy’ option. 

Let young people know what they can achieve by undertaking an apprenticeship, particularly in your organisation. Let them know how they will be integrated into the company. Show them the challenges and the benefits and be transparent about what will be expected from them. Articulate your position clearly. People can have successful, corporate, and varied careers with apprenticeships but more than this – your potential hires need to know they will fit, and feel supported and fulfilled within your business. 

Distinction 

Lastly, from our discussion with Early Talent professionals, it is increasingly clear that distinguishing between the groups you’re trying to attract is important. Apprenticeship attraction is complex, the apprentice population is varied, and it’s clear that grouping everyone together is not the way forward. Having dedicated and targeted attraction for students is critical – the vast range of apprenticeships means you’ll bespoke messaging for the individuals you are looking to engage for differing apprenticeship levels. 

Can it be expected that the attraction strategy for a non-academic student who wants to stray away from the academia of university, would also attract the student who feels like ‘apprenticeships aren’t for me’? Probably not. Different considerations require different tactics. 

Which is Right for Me? 

The purpose of Amberjack’s event with SFS Media, wasn’t to prove that an apprenticeship is better than university, but rather that both options should be considered equally. A message that was delivered by one of our panel Karen Handley, Head of Future Careers at Virgin Media O2. 

Apprenticeship attraction is challenging but with dedicated focus and personalised messaging will help change perspectives and show everyone the benefits and opportunities of joining an apprenticeship programme. 

However, fundamentally the key focus is for organisations and schools to help students access the sufficient information, resources and research, so that they can make the decision right for them. 

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