Finding out more about the alternative path

Finding out more about the alternative path

Apprenticeships represent a great career choice for young people and offer an alternative to staying on in sixth form or college. But are students, schools and parents getting the right information? Mark Dawe, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, investigates

Schools are definitely getting much better at informing their students about the benefits of apprenticeships but there are still too many examples of teachers and parents passing on very out-dated notions to young people that apprenticeships are second-rate options for the less academically gifted. Such notions are now a million miles away from the truth.

We know this from surveys of young people and because apprentices say at events that they never heard about apprenticeships at school or they were actively put off them. Instead they found out about available opportunities via the internet or through their peer group and siblings.

Many of these apprentices had both good GCSE and A level grades and the evidence shows that it is now a complete myth that only those with poor grades consider doing an apprenticeship. In fact, some apprenticeship opportunities with major employers are so competitive that good grades are a must.

As long ago as 2010, BT was getting 24,000 applications for just 220 apprenticeship places nationally – that’s more applications than for Oxford and Cambridge combined.


There is no doubt that worries over student debt from a traditional degree are a contributing factor in the growing popularity of apprenticeships. Where more work needs to be done however is to spread the word on why apprenticeships themselves represent a great career choice for young people.

The benefits of an apprenticeship is that it offers a paid job with training from day one. Starting at an intermediate level or higher, a young person can obtain a degree via an apprenticeship. What’s more, the training and qualifications, including a degree apprenticeship, are paid for on the apprentice’s behalf. There is no student debt.

In addition, apprentices on level 2 and 3 apprenticeships are paid an average of £6.70 per hour which works out at over £230 per week.

This will normally rise depending on the skill level and technicality of the role. Over the course of a lifetime, completing a level 3 apprenticeship (equivalent of two A Levels) could give a person benefits of up to £117,000, while doing a higher apprenticeship (equivalent to a diploma or foundation degree) means a person could earn over £150,000 more.

Nearly 90 per cent of apprenticeship completers stay with the same employer for at least six months, so job security is a major attraction.Also, apprenticeships are available in a wide range of industries, from hospitality to healthcare, engineering to digital, and at many different levels including those for management.

A job with a degree

The number of students with good grades passing up the chance to go to university and instead opting for an apprenticeship increases every year. AELP’s message during August’s exam results season last year was ‘apprenticeships aren’t just for other people’s children’ and we are hearing more about parents becoming comfortable with the idea of the work based learning option for their child.

Astute young people and their parents are realising that a job with a degree via an apprenticeship in many circumstances has much greater value than a degree, debt, no grad job and little income.

At the same time, we don’t want to lose sight of the fact that apprenticeships offer an alternative to staying on in sixth form or college after GCSEs. In this sense, they are a real driver of social mobility because they offer a 16 year-old the opportunity to start earning and learning at level 2 or above.

For many young people who don’t feel at ease in the traditional academic environment, an apprenticeship will take them out of the classroom and into a job, which they will keep, with the appropriate training. This could mean learning English and maths in an applied context rather being forced to resit GCSEs. They have the opportunity to pick a career and get on with it.

Apprentices gain access to high quality training. Most employers team up with a government registered apprenticeship training provider to run an apprenticeship programme. Most providers are independent training providers, 82 per cent of which are either good or outstanding, but local further education colleges run programmes too.

A recent government survey found that four in five employers were highly satisfied with the overall quality of the training, giving a score of at least eight out of 10.


We may live in uncertain times with Brexit and the economy, but the good news for young people is that the government is heavily committed to see the apprenticeship programme grow.

In the five‑year period of the coalition government, there were over 2.5 million apprenticeship starts and now the current government is aiming for three million starts by 2020. In terms of budgets, annual funding of the programme is expected to increase from £1.7 billion to £2.5 billion in England.

The reason why apprenticeships have their budget safeguarded and increasing when most areas of public expenditure are under severe pressure is because the government has introduced the apprenticeship levy which effectively taxes large employers to pay for the programme.

Employers can claim their share of the levy back with a 10 per cent top-up from the government to fund their own apprenticeships and AELP’s understanding is that nearly all of the largest organisations have indeed registered with the Apprenticeship Service to do so.

Therefore, young people will find that virtually every big name on the high street, for example a bank or a supermarket, plus all the major names in industry like the car manufacturers, will have an apprenticeship scheme to apply to. Many of these employers are now cutting back their traditional graduate recruitment programmes to take on more apprentices instead.

Also changing in what has historically been a barren area for apprenticeships is the public sector. Not only are the large employers there paying the levy but they are also subject to a statutory target for apprenticeship recruitment.

All employers can offer existing members of staff the chance to go on to an apprenticeship programme to develop their skills at a higher level, including leadership, but the levy means that for the first time organisations such as NHS Trusts, government agencies and local authorities are offering apprenticeship opportunities to school leavers.

The benefit for schools

The levy applies to employers with an annual payroll of over £3 million a year, which means that most multi-academy trusts and some larger standalone academies are subject to it.

Technically all maintained schools pay the levy as well via their local authority as the employer, although this won’t show on a school’s balance sheet. Levy money must be claimed back within two years of it being paid and it can only be used for the training and assessment of apprentices, i.e. it can’t be used to pay salaries.

Headteachers and school business managers should not allow the levy to disappear as a tax, especially when budgets are under huge strain. The money should be claimed back to run apprenticeship programmes within the school. In recent years, we have seen apprenticeships used to train teaching assistants, PE teachers, IT technicians and school business managers.

Admin teams and receptionists are also able to do business administration or customer service apprenticeships.

But now the programme can be used for professional development up to level 7 (masters level) and the government has recently announced that apprenticeship standards are being developed to train teachers to QTS level. In other words, teachers will no longer have to be graduates.

One of the core challenges for maintained schools is that local authorities are looking to spend their levy in different ways. Some are intending to treat their levy as a central pot from which they will fund whole apprenticeships on a submitted business case scenario.

Other local authorities are carving up their levy and allocating that back out to individual business units or schools and saying that is all they can spend. For a small school this might not give them enough for a whole apprenticeship, rendering the process pointless unless the school can top it up from the central levy pot.

As levy funding has a 24-month shelf life, we would encourage local authorities where they have apportioned funds down to individual business units and schools to consider the use of a reconciliation model to keep the funding moving around their organisation.

By following this approach, it will ensure that there is enough funding in the system to purchase training and there is no funding lost through it not being spent. Schools can also purchase apprenticeship training via the co-investment model whereby the school contributes 10 per cent of the cost with the government paying for the rest.

The government’s apprenticeship reforms have been through an often tricky five-year period of gestation but we are now seeing numbers increase with accompanying improvements in the quality of the training. We must ensure that young people and school staff take full advantage of the fantastic progress that has been made.

Further Information: