Sarah Jones is chief executive of learndirect, the nationwide e-teaching organisation

As we move into September and the start of a new school year, young people across the country will have spent the last few weeks deciding on their future after exam results were announced. The options for the class of 2013 are as varied as ever, thanks to consecutive governments investing substantial amounts of money into making higher education and further education more accessible.

This year sees the first cohort of young people leaving Year 11 continuing in education or training until they turn 17 and teenagers in England continuing to learn maths and English if they don’t achieve a C at GCSE. Given the range of options available, it’ll be interesting to see which route school leavers choose – Apprenticeships, university or straight into the workplace.  What we want to see is more people considering Apprenticeships. George Osborne has committed to create more Apprenticeships in the recent Spending Review and the government invested £1.5 billion into the vocational route between 2012 and 2013. We should see all this have real impact on Apprenticeship enrolments over the coming months.

An increase in enrolments would be great news for the UK economy. Apprenticeships not only help reduce youth unemployment levels (currently at 21.4%), but also provide UK businesses with a young, motivated and skilled workforce to help bridge the fast developing skills gap.

However, research we recently conducted with Cranfield School of Management revealed 70 per cent of businesses have not taken any steps to address potential skills shortages in the labour market which have been forecast in 10 to 20 years time. With Apprenticeships providing a real opportunity to equip individuals with the skills needed to bridge this gap, the more we can educate both businesses and school leavers on the benefits, the better.

For young people leaving school, the vocational route offers benefits both financially and in terms of career progression. Apprenticeships provide the opportunity to work and study at the same time, allowing an apprentice to gain formal qualifications and relevant experience whilst getting paid. In today’s competitive jobs market, this experience can really make individuals stand out from the crowd.

As this year’s school leavers make their decisions, the advice they receive could play a big part in the route they choose. Despite the heightened visibility of vocational qualifications, it’s still not clear to what extent they’re being promoted as a highly regarded option.  It was interesting however to read the research released by HSBC earlier this month which showed 21% of parents advised their children to study a vocational subject to better their chances of getting a job after university.

It’s clear the government is eager to encourage today’s learners to consider vocational qualifications; it is now important we actively encourage learners to truly understand the merits of Apprenticeships as the start of a future career path. But we need to do this through educating the influencers– careers advisors, teachers and parents – on the benefits too. Only then will we create a system where we can really take advantage of everything Apprenticeships have to offer.

Sarah Jones is chief executive of learndirect, the nationwide e-teaching organisation

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