This week during National Apprenticeship Week, UCAS and the UK Education Secretary have made an exciting announcement. From August this year, prospective apprentices in the UK will be able to search and apply for apprenticeships alongside traditional degrees on the UCAS website.
In a press release announcing the move, UCAS also highlighted that half of their applicants would consider an apprenticeship. However, there aren’t enough vacancies being advertised to meet the growing demand. Apprenticeship providers say that unfortunately, people aren’t always aware of the viability of apprenticeships as a career path.
Higher education institutions and trade organisations say the move will help “put technical and vocational education on equal footing” with traditional academic routes.
The Growing Demand for Apprenticeships
This new move comes on the back of record high application rates for UCAS in 2022. This included the highest number of A-students left without a university place after offers last August. In addition, this growing demand is mirrored in the record number of searches for degree and higher apprenticeships in 2022.
This change will give applicants more options, when choosing the career and education route they would like to take.
Issues with Apprenticeship Provision
One pressing issue with the growing demand for apprenticeships in the UK, is ensuring the quality of apprenticeship provision. One report released late last year uncovered major problems with apprentice retention and program quality in England. The report emphasized that both the apprenticeship provision standard and inspection standard, needed to be higher.
In recent major change to the sector, Ofsted has been given the responsibility of inspecting all apprenticeship programs. This includes degree and higher apprenticeships and will help to ensure the integrity of programs. Some institutions have already begun to feel the pressure from Ofsted to improve their apprenticeship provision.
Key Considerations for Apprenticeship Providers
The move to bring vocational education to the same standing as traditional education is a welcome one. However, it highlights the importance of upholding the same standards. This includes the same high standards for student success and retention. The EDSK report from 2022 recommends increasing focus on program quality and the apprentice experience.
HEIs, FEIs and Vocational Training Providers are required to meet the relevant standards around trainee employability, skills and training. However, they also need to meet the expectations of their trainees. Young apprentices will hold expectations around experience, support and success outcomes.
Some key areas of consideration for apprenticeship providers going forward:
The Quality of Programs:
Providers should ensure apprentices are getting the right training on and off the job. Work-integrated-learning programs bring unique challenges that require a dedicated management approach that is different to traditional education. It’s crucial that apprenticeship providers make the investments necessary to address these challenges and improve apprentice outcomes. The right oversight and progression tracking, will help ensure success.
The Apprentice Experience:
Not too far removed from the student experience, providers need to do more to understand the needs and expectations of their trainees. As a non-traditional route of education, apprenticeships often see more non-traditional students. These cohorts experience unique challenges. Making use of learning analytics can give a better understanding of the apprentice journey.
Poor retention rates on apprenticeships are a sign that trainees aren’t getting the support they need. Better oversight of apprentices while training on-the-job is a key next step. Some modern tech systems can flag wellbeing concerns and enable remote check-ins with trainees. This enables a proactive, holistic approach to support.