Pledges for more than 23,000 apprenticeships were given by UK employers in and around National Apprenticeship Week (March 9-13), thanks in part to a wide range of events put on by colleges to promote work-based learning. The week also saw employers promise more traineeships – work placements for students before entering full-time apprenticeships – and the official launch of apprenticeship degrees, which allow students to study for a full degree while in paid work.
At Eastleigh College, speakers at an employer-focused lunch revealed just why employers value apprenticeships. “We had a small and a large-sized employer and both said that, because they produced niche products, apprenticeships were a great way to get people into their companies,” says the college’s Marketing Coordinator Lynsey Withers.
“They find it an uphill struggle to recruit so they treat apprenticeships as a 2-3 year interview process. They say there’s an increase in staff morale as the company sees them investing in young people; they take them on with a view, where possible, to giving them a job at the end.
“They like the hands-on, technical skills apprentices can offer. And they find it can be quite hard for graduates from university to alter their way of working – it’s much easier with apprentices.”
Encouraged by increased Government emphasis on apprenticeships being a sound alternative to university as a route into work, colleges picked up the general theme of the week – how much do we really know about apprenticeships?
In a brief snap-shot of the week's activities, busting popular myths about apprenticeships was a key focus at Central College Nottingham. The college attracted busloads of schoolchildren to its marketplace for apprenticeships set in one of 10 campuses. But this campus was different to the others - instead of a typical college environment, it has been built in the middle of a business park. "We did not want to replicate the general further education/school/college setting. It’s a big campus but it doesn’t look like a college,” says Matt Pinches, Head of Engagement. “It’s a modern, steel-built building, with the Kia Academy on site [used by apprentices of the motor manufacturer who are also enrolled at the college] next door. You feel like you are coming into a workplace.”
Pinches believes location is a key factor in attendance. “It’s the second year we’ve done this and it was so successful last year. Schools are really willing to get out to the event. They come into state-of-the-art training rooms and there is a really close relationship between education and employers.” The college is known for its specialism in automotive engineering and attracts national interest from big motor manufacturers, such as Kia and Aston Martin.
Once ready, students have to face the often arduous process of filling in applications, which was the subject of special workshops put on in schools during the week by Cambridge Regional College. “We follow a lesson plan and teach students what to put in and leave out,” says Kay Li, Employer Engagement Communications Coordinator. “You’d be surprised at what mistakes students can make!”
The workshops encouraged participants to ask themselves questions such as do they have an appropriate email address? Do they need to change their social media privacy settings? Have they avoided posting inflammatory remarks about their school? Have they researched the company they are applying to? How do they match their skills to the job spec?
But it was apprentices themselves that carried some of the strongest messages. Students from Chesterfield College showed just what they could do in its own version of the BBC’s The Apprentice. Two teams of three students were given four days to come up with a business plan, product and sales strategy – on day four of the week at the local market mugs with a Mother’s Day theme proved a hot item, while tie-dyed baby clothes, though selling less on the day, nevertheless sparked interest.
When it comes to wooing local employers, though, Amersham and Wycombe College can claim to be leading the pack. Not content with just a business breakfast for employers held during National Apprenticeship Week, the college is taking over the hosting of a regular business networking group that has moved to the college’s High Wycombe town centre campus, from where it runs all its apprenticeships. “We’ve rebranded the group ‘Inspire Business Club’,” says Sarah Dovaston, Executive Head of Commercial Services. “It will be about entrepreneurial journeys and sessions relevant to business but also offer us a chance to talk to employers about apprenticeships and partnership training.”
Back at Eastleigh College, they introduced a fun element when visiting four local schools – a multiple-choice quiz on apprenticeships. If a team got the right answer, they gained a sweet; get it wrong and they lost one. Colleges continue to challenge the often trodden route for students of attending university and parents, pupils and employers are discovering the real value within apprenticeships. “We find a lot of pupils in schools still don’t fully understand what apprenticeships are - and their benefits,” said Lynsey Withers. “They see them covering traditional, construction-type subjects and that’s not the case any more.”