Apprenticeships still have an image problem

The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) has published a report into how young people perceive non-academic education. ACCA’s chief executive Helen Brand talks about the findings.

Having surveyed more than 1,000 respondents between 16 and 18, the report finds that in terms of earnings potential and employability, apprenticeships are largely viewed as inferior paths to employment when compared to academic education.
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While a renewed drive for apprenticeships is welcomed, the ACCA holds that apprenticeships offer a feasible alternative to graduate routes and that the government should be doing more to address this divergence in perception.
“Just over one-fifth of respondents felt that doing an apprenticeship would leave them earning significantly less than if they went to university,” said ACCA chief executive, Helen Brand. “These views are based on perceptions rather than hard facts, but it tells us that a huge amount needs to be done to change people’s views on where an apprenticeship might take you.
“Again, and in order to dispel some of the misconceptions, more needs to be done to promote higher level apprenticeships as offering an alternative means of accessing professional careers.”
Part of the problem has been that only a small proportion of apprenticeships undertaken have been at the higher levels. In 2013-2014 only 2 per cent of apprenticeships were at Level 4 – the equivalent of a HE diploma – whereas the vast majority were Levels 2 and 3.
For parity in perception to be achieved ACCA recommends that more higher level apprenticeships are created and taken up, and wherever possible individuals should be able to work their way up from lower to higher level apprenticeships.
“I’m pleased to see that more and more accountancy firms are starting to introduce apprenticeship pathways. But more can and needs to be done to create greater parity between graduate and apprenticeship routes into professional careers,” Brand suggested.
“Where employers offer both graduate and apprenticeship entry routes for similar positions they must ensure that all entrants are treated on the same terms (and this should extend to equal remuneration). If apprenticeship and graduate pathways are designed to lead to different entry level grades (levels of seniority) then employers must be transparent about this.”
Dispelling myths is equally important. As Brand maintains, apprenticeships are well established in certain professions such as engineering and accountancy. Indeed, many of the ACCA’s own members have gained professional qualifications through a combination of work experience and training, the core feature of the apprenticeship pathway. So in many senses the negative perception of apprenticeships is unfounded.
“From our research we’ve found that apprenticeships have something of an image problem. To be frank apprenticeship routes are still seen as the ‘poor relative’ by many when compared with going to university. For this perception to change there needs to be a culture shift in the way apprenticeships are viewed by schools, employers, parents and students.”
Schools have long been measured against the number of students that go to university, and additionally employers have tended to favour recruitment from graduate pools. Brand argues that as this culture changes, so too will perception.
But in order for that happen, information on the earnings potential of apprentices and levels available must be more transparent, and the government should do more to ensure people have access to informed advisors. Another key finding in the ACCA’s research was a lack of careers advice on apprenticeships, with almost one third of respondents saying they had received none.
“Some progress has been made,” Brand added. “The creation of the Careers Enterprise Company for example provides an opportunity to link careers advisors, schools/colleges and employers […] to ensure apprenticeship routes are embedded in regional skills and careers advice strategies.
This will hopefully help to bridge the gap between schools/colleges and employers.
“But progress needs to be monitored and measured to make sure the quality and availability of advice on apprenticeships is improved – this will be critical in raising the profile and perception of apprenticeships.”


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