Words by Denise Hatton, Chief Executive of the National Council of YMCAs
Deciding what to do after leaving school can be a daunting task for many young people. Figuring out the rest of your life is never an easy decision but, for today’s generation, it’s probably harder than ever.
For most young people who are completing their GCSEs or A-Levels, university is often recognised as the ‘main’ option. But, with tuition fees now up to £9,000 per year and employers looking for practical experience as well as qualifications, young people are facing immense pressures.
To help young people gain the necessary skills and experience to enter the workplace, the Government is heavily promoting the vocational skills route, including apprenticeships. Part of this push is courtesy of the new Apprenticeship Levy that is being introduced to help fund three million new apprenticeship starts by 2020. There has been much debate about the Government’s strategy on both sides of this argument and just last week, the Sub-Committee on Education, Skills and the Economy published a report criticising the levy, warning it’ll be “doomed to fail” if the Government focusses on apprenticeship starts over quality.
While it’s certain that the current apprenticeship offer will evolve once we’ve seen how the levy will play out in reality, many businesses have already realised the benefits of hiring apprentices. Yet young people’s voices have been tragically absent from the ongoing apprenticeship debate so far.
That is where we believe YMCA’s new Work in Progress research report, released today, will come in.
Over the past couple of months, we’ve been speaking to more than 400 young people who are either former or current apprentices. We’ve heard the positives and the negatives behind the vocational route into work and we’ve put forward in our report what we think needs to change to make apprenticeships work for more young people.
One of the starkest findings for us was around the perception of apprenticeships as second-class routes into work, with less than one in four of our respondents to our survey receiving any information about them from their teachers and lecturers.
Catherine, 18, from Swansea, told us: “In school, it was like you had to go to college and you had to go to university. Apprenticeships were seen for the people who didn’t have brains to go do a degree. I don’t think that’s right, it’s just a different skill.”
However, the belief that apprenticeships are somewhat less worthy couldn’t be further from the truth. Local YMCAs up and down in the country train almost 3,700 people through YMCA apprenticeships each year. In fact, by working with young people and businesses we know that apprenticeships are available in many different industries offering various levels of qualifications. And that’s not all – almost 80% of the young people we spoke to were also offered a job at the end of their apprenticeship.
Listening to young people, it’s evident that taking on an apprenticeship not only puts them on the path to employment, but takes away some of the anxieties they may face trying to get into work. Many employers recognise that would-be apprentices won’t have the necessary work experience, giving young people the opportunity to gain first-hand experience on the job.
Carlie, 26, did an apprenticeship in administration and business and now works as a qualified youth worker. She told us: “When you start an apprenticeship, the expectation isn’t there. They know and understand that you’re training and that they’re there to teach you. So you don’t feel pressured to be perfect.”
And that is just part of the reason why apprenticeships are such an important element of young people’s routes into employment: they are an option. They provide those young people who are more practically minded, who want to pursue a career where university qualifications are less relevant or who simply learn in a different way a positive experience that helps get them into work.
Young people have told us what they need and it’s time the sector listens. Only then can the apprenticeship offer improve and rightfully be seen as an attractive and progressive option helps young people get their foot on the career ladder.
Read Carlie’s YMCA story about her experience as an apprentice.