Apprentice Apotheosis

Posted on 27 Aug 2010 by The Manufacturer

TM's Jane Gray investigates whether the high fall-out from university clearing is manifesting in a predicted rise in apprenticeship applications.

This year higher education institutions in the UK experienced an unprecedented swell of applications for university places from A Level Students and, unable to cater for all the hopeful candidates, the UK also experienced new highs in the number of young people who could not be absorbed by the UCAS clearing process. Indeed many universities, including Warwick, had to forgo clearing altogether on certain popular courses. Warwick, along with Cambridge and the London School of Economics (LSE) reached capacity in certain subjects nine days prior to the release of A Level results and had to turn down even students predicted to get A* grades, newly this year to enable universities to pick out the brightest students.

Given a rise of nearly 12% in application on last year the fall-out from clearing was not unexpected and figures from government and education were vocal in the run up to A Level results in highlighting alternative qualification and career progression options. Among these of course were apprenticeships, the expansion of which the Coalition has supported since coming to power.

This would appear to be a golden opportunity for industry to recruit hundreds of young people desperate to secure their immediate and long terms futures and to fill a widely reported skills gap in both advanced and technician level abilities in manufacturing.

But has the interest manifested in increasing apprenticeship applications and does industry have the capacity to support a sudden influx?

Speaking to the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) TM learnt that, although it is early days for identifying meaningful trends, there does indeed appear to have been an immediate rise in apprenticeship interest. Josie Perry marketing and communications director at NAS said “as an average we get 75,000 hits looking at our apprenticeship opportunities in a week. However, in the week from Monday 16 August to Sunday 22 August we saw more like 100,000.” (A Level results were released on Thursday 19 August.)

Sector Skills Council (SSC), Cogent also said they had experienced a surge in apprenticeship inquiries. Mervin Dadd, director external affairs and communications at Cogent said “we have had a flurry of students calling Cogent, and other parts of the group, looking for careers in nuclear engineering and off-shore.”

An issue which is worrying some manufacturers and training providers however is the industry’s current capability to deliver apprenticeships and real job opportunity to this new interest. While many large enterprises like BAE and Rolls-Royce have extensive apprenticeship schemes, their popularity means that spaces are filled up well in advance of a September intake. For smaller organisations apprenticeships are appealing but often a financial and operational burden that many are unwilling to shoulder in difficult times.

Anne Watson, MD of engineering qualifications awading body, EAL spoke to TM about the danger of allowing an imbalance between promises to young people and support for apprenticeships at SMEs to emerge and encouraged employers to take a longer-term view: “With record numbers struggling to find a university place this year we expect colleges and training providers to see an increased take-up of apprenticeships.

“Although this is promising for the skills sectors as a whole, we need to ensure that the places are available. To achieve this, companies need to recognise the long lasting benefits of taking on an apprentice for their business, the industry and the economy. Without more companies willing to train apprentices, a golden opportunity to benefit from an increased interest in apprenticeships will be lost, and the skills sector will miss out on a fantastic opportunity to develop the next generation.”

NAS and the SSCs expect to have greater clarity on data relating to apprenticeship inquiries and applications in the next couple of months. It behoves government and industry to ensure that the infrastructure and finance is available to take advantage of and foster new apprenticeship enthusiasm as it emerges.