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Apprenticeship career path at risk

Despite successive governments having created what could be the 'best career route in the world’ for under-25s, this could now be at risk.

New research shows 98 percent of engineering apprentices are happy in their jobs, citing good pay and no debt, fulfilling work, qualifications and career progression. However, this extraordinarily successful career route is at risk from government changes to the apprenticeship system and is being held back by poor careers advice at school.

Research was carried out through the Industry Apprentice Council (IAC, the UK's industry voice for apprentices, and supported by national engineering skills body Semta. 1200 apprentices from the advanced manufacturing and engineering sectors took part. 

Ann Watson, chief executive of Semta Group, said: “As we finalise new standards for apprenticeships it is important that ministers listen to apprentices and prevent the collapse of an extremely successful system. We are already facing an uphill battle with poor careers advice in schools. We need to make apprenticeships more attractive, not less, to our young people and employers, particularly the SMEs, at a time when we need all the engineers we can get and the skills gap is growing – we need nearly two million more engineers and technical staff by 2025.”

92 percent of the apprentices surveyed oppose the removal of mandatory qualifications by the Department for Education, with warnings that this risks creating a two tier system. Those studying the new T-Levels will achieve a recognised formal qualification while newer apprentices may not – as qualifications are not mandatory in the new apprenticeship standards.

John Coombes, IAC member and toolmaker at Ford Motor Company, said: “Governments have created what must be the world’s best career route for young people – where else would we get 98 percent saying they are happy with their career choice? But more than 90 percent of apprentices oppose the removal of mandated qualifications, and there is a lot of unease about the focus on the End Point Assessment as the primary measure of an apprentice’s achievement.”

Careers advice was highly criticised by the apprentices. Only 22 percent received good or very good advice from schools, with five percent receiving no advice and nearly 40 percent saying their advice was bad or very bad.

The research also highlighted a significant gender bias in careers advice, with 85 percent of female apprentices saying their school or college had put higher education as the number one option for school leavers, compared to just 77 percent for male apprentices. Similarly, fewer young women were given information about apprenticeships compared to young men – 35 percent against 41 percent.

Philippa Dressler-Pearson, IAC member and advanced technical engineering apprentice at Southco Manufacturing, Worcester, said: 'There's a massive skills shortage of engineers and technical staff in the UK but you don't hear anything about this in schools. Teachers don't have enough information about apprenticeships, why they are important and what they offer.'

The apprentices have made a number of recommendations for government and schools. They say no school should be awarded a status of outstanding by OFSTED unless they deliver quality careers advice on apprenticeships, and that this advice should be a statutory requirement in all schools. They also want formal qualifications included in apprenticeship standards wherever employers recommend them.

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