Home » Apprenticeships » Students should be given a greater number of higher education options

Clare Marchant


Lindsay Conroy

Apprenticeship Programme Lead, UCAS

Jason Holt

CEO of Holts Group of Companies, Co-Founder of Association of Apprentices

Presenting apprenticeship opportunities side-by-side with traditional route options means that students can make better, more informed choices about their career pathways.

Times and demographics are changing, something UCAS understands more than most and is fully embracing. The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service is actually now highly active and relevant in the apprenticeship space too.

Every year, the organisation manages applications from around 700,000 people, for full-time undergraduate courses at over 350 universities and colleges across the UK. “Yet we expect that number to grow to one million applicants by 2026,” explains Clare Marchant, CEO, UCAS.

“That means we have to provide a greater number of higher education options. We also have one and a half million pre-applicants — students who come to us at an early age to explore opportunities and look for information, advice and guidance about the choices available to them. We need to serve them better, too, rather than only offering them a route to a traditional, three-year undergraduate degree.”

Plus, Marchant points out, apprenticeships are a dynamic way to learn new skills and gain academic qualifications. Many universities recognise this and work extensively with employers to deliver apprenticeship courses at higher and degree level.

So it’s right that apprenticeship programmes should be seen as a future pathway that is every bit as valid as university. To that end, the organisation is offering a range of services to help organisations showcase their industry and employer brand, while matching apprenticeship opportunities to students among their audience.

Changing perceptions of apprenticeships

Of course, it’s not just students that benefit from apprenticeships. Employers do too with many using this approach to meet their diversity targets. “A company like Capgemini, in the graduate recruitment space, wanted 50% of its tech recruits to be women,” says Lindsay Conroy, Apprenticeship Programme Lead, UCAS. “Utilising our data they successfully achieved this target, and also cut their cost of recruitment. We’re now looking to develop a suite of products for apprenticeship recruitment that will help employers access harder-to-reach groups and hit their ED&I targets.”

Even so, there is still work to be done to change perceptions of apprenticeships especially among SMEs, admits Jason Holt, CEO of Holts Group of Companies and Co-founder of Association of Apprentices.

“The irony is that employers with effective apprenticeship programmes have better productivity and growth than those that don’t,” he says. “Yet many employers are yet to engage with apprenticeships.” That’s curious, he says, because apprenticeships improve social mobility and increase workforce diversity. Also, because they inspire feelings of loyalty among apprentices, they aid staff retention.

However, in the past, even for interested SMEs, it hasn’t always been easy to navigate the (sometimes complex) apprenticeship landscape. Hopefully, says Holt, because UCAS aspires to be “a one-stop shop” for apprenticeships, this will be easier going forward.

Students often don’t get advice and guidance about apprenticeships from family members and schools.

Lindsay Conroy

Offering routes to a wide variety of a careers

Yet it’s not just businesses that need to think differently about apprenticeships, says Conroy. She believes more must be done to promote their true value to parents and carers.

“We did some research recently and found that over 40% of parents and carers saw apprenticeships as a choice for less academic people. Over a quarter thought that it would be the job of apprentices to make cups of tea.”

What’s more, students often don’t get advice and guidance about apprenticeships from family members and schools. “Which is why 87% of the students we surveyed felt that a university degree would lead to a good job, while only 57% of them felt that an apprenticeship would do the same,” says Conroy. “We have to shift the needle on these kids of myths.”

“The fact is that all career paths can be achieved through an apprenticeship,” says Conroy. “The options available are wider than they have ever been, from architects and engineers to social workers, solicitors and nurses. By providing engaging advice and guidance to students we want to help them understand the benefits and expectations of an apprenticeship.”

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