Gavin O'Meara, CEO, Founder and Head of Digital at FE News and FE Careers

We need a joined up approach for Apprenticeships, Higher Level Apprenticeships are growing, fantastic! ... but at the same time Entry Level Apprenticeships are shrinking by a similar number. We need a holistic plan to get the balance back in the Apprenticeship World. 

The strategic plan to win hearts and minds around the positive benefits of Apprenticeships is winning. The war isn’t won, yet, but huge progress has been made. This is fantastic news and the sector needs to celebrate this.

Apprenticeships are an exciting option for young people, but also for those looking to progress their career.

Having a system from Level 2 Entry level to Degree Apprenticeships and beyond is literally awesome and a triumph for the sector.

Meister Apprenticeships

When I heard Martin Doel chat about this and what we can learn from Meister Apprenticeships back in 2011, it totally blew my mind. I was so excited… it isn’t job done yet, but what huge progress the sector has made, making people aware of Apprenticeships as a viable option for them, and their kids (not someone else’s kids) is for me a massive achievement for the sector.

This week I read Mark Dawe’s intro to AELP’s Countdown and it made me think. (Yes Mark, I do read Countdown with a lot of interest!) The latest Apprenticeship starts stats are great news on the surface, there is a 5.3% increase in starts in the provisional 2018/19 compared to 2017/18. Starts on Higher-Level Apprenticeships (level 4+) have increased 58% (from 46,900 in the provisional 2017/18 year to 74,200 in the latest 2018/19 figures). Hurrah!

BUT, scratch under the surface and go a bit Captain Stato, Apprenticeship starts overall are still down 20.8% compared to 2016/17.

Entry-Level Apprenticeships

What I have found pretty heartbreaking was looking at the stats for Entry-Level Apprenticeship starts. There were a total of 142,300 level 2 starts for 2018/19, which is a reduction of 45% on 2016/17 and 51% on 2015/16. Yes, down 51%, or over half compared to 2015/16! It probably will not escape you that Higher-Level Apprenticeships are up 58%.

Now I think this is epic (remember my excitement about Martin Doel giving me a concept back in 2011 that blew my mind), but surely the growth in Higher Level Apprenticeships shouldn't be to the detriment of Entry-Level Apprenticeships. Surely we can have both?

What is interesting in the figures and stats thrown around with the latest Apprenticeship start figures for October, is that according to Gavin Williamson "56% of all Apprenticeship starts this year have been supported by levy-paying employers". Awesome! ... but hang about, that is employers paying for well over 56% of all Apprenticeships out of their Levy pots, eg no Government intervention.

What a clever strategic move by the Government and it is obviously working, but according to the stats, it is only working for the Higher-Level Apprenticeships.

So a growth in Higher Level Apprenticeships is being driven by employers, fantastic, but what can be done by the Government to incentivise Entry-Level Apprenticeships?... or when they are at it, how about also incentivising SME's to be able to take on more Apprentices too? 

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WorldSkills UK Live

I love WorldSkills, but if we are getting another Year 12 group of school kids excited about Apprenticeships and Work Based Learning in Birmingham in around a month at WorldSkills UK Live (you've gotta love the name!)... but the reality is that this year we have dropped 51% of Entry-Level Apprenticeship opportunities compared to 2016... then surely we need to address this as a sector? 

What is the point of busing in loads and loads of kids into a huge arena, getting them excited about Apprenticeships and the Work Based Learning route, and then not having an adequate Entry Apprenticeship destination ready available for them? Surely we owe it to these kids and future kids to have an Apprenticeship entry plan for them?

How tragic? The sector has strived, fought and won the hearts and minds, the young people want Apprenticeships, why wouldn’t they? Earn as you Learn, the vocational route gives you experience, the same qualifications, zero debt and the all important work experience and being work ready compared to the academic route. What isn’t to love? It should be job done!

The problem is the stats say these Apprenticeship Entry opportunities are down 51% compared to a few years ago. Surely, we need to sort this out?

This is not a knock-on WorldSkills or WorldSkills UK live. Personally, I feel like I owe WorldSkills a lot.

The plan to get young people excited and engaged in careers and the vocational route works

My son wants to be an Engineer and WorldSkills Calgary 2009 opened his eyes. In WorldSkills Calgary he was treated to a VIP day, he was in his little suit in the baking sun, looking at the Canadian Airforce Airframes up close, tools in hand... he pressed the button to drop the drill on a real working oil rig whilst wearing one of those iconic American style hard hats... he got up close to a real racing car, everything was explained as if he was a part of the team working on the individual working units… he was hooked and there and then he decided that he wanted to be an Engineer. I remember him saying it, eyes full of wonder a massive white 'Friend of Calgary' stetson hat on his head... he was six years old at the time! Job done.

He is now at college studying Avionics, and he still wants to be an Engineer, but he and according to my son, 90% of his fellow students on his course, if they had the choice, would now be on an Engineering Apprenticeship, but there were not enough available in the local area in the vocational area of their choice (Engineering) that were suitable. So he has gone for the longer view: get another qualification and thankfully we have a fantastic college on our doorstep. His plan is to then get on an Apprenticeship. See the start of his career choice is an Apprenticeship. This is my son (who if he reads this, won’t be happy I’m writing about him!)… but how many other young people also want those Apprenticeship opportunities? Why aren’t they there and readily available? How do we sort this out? How do we incentivise employers to take on more entry-level Apprentices? … or help SME’s to be incentivised to take a chance on an Apprentice? Surely we owe it to those kids we are busing into the NEC in a few weeks' time? 

The distractions of #Brexit

The political World is volatile at the moment. At the time of writing the Brexit deal has been on and off more times than the average light bulb… currently, the EU part of the Brexit deal is on, but as Theresa May and Boris will know only too well, an EU agreed Brexit deal doesn’t mean a thing unless it is also agreed back home in the Houses of Parliament. Could an Election be on the horizon?

If the Brexit deal is really done (and it gets through Parliament etc), Boris has said he wants Brexit done and dusted so the Government can then focus on real at home issues. I think one of these should be to address the Entry-Level Apprenticeship issue.

Instead of taking a big stick to the problem, how do we encourage and incentivise Entry-Level Apprenticeship opportunities?

How to sort out this problem is out of my hands, and hands up… I don’t have the answers, but as a sector, the FE News audience have the biggest cross-section of Apprenticeship, Work Based Learning, Employability, Advice and Guidance experts in the country, if not the World…. C’mon! So if anyone can come up with a solution to this, I have absolute faith that you can come up with a solution to fix this. So what do you suggest as a solution?

This is a sincere call for the sector to shine, no moaning, just solutions and suggestions please. I would absolutely love and welcome different articles and suggestions on how to come up with a solution to increase the number of Entry-Level Apprenticeship starts… and how to incentivise SME’s to take on more Apprentices? Are you up for it?

Gavin O'Meara, CEO, Founder and Head of Digital at FE News and FE Careers

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