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Is parent power the missing link for Apprenticeships?

A mother and daughter in a school environment
Cassandra Macdonald
By Cassandra MacDonald, Head of Client Solutions - Apprenticeships Link to Cassandra MacDonald's LinkedIn profile

At an event at the National Gallery in London celebrating Women in Apprenticeships, I listened to a very impressive young lady from EY speaking about how her decision to accept an Apprenticeship with a Big 4 Accountancy Practice was the only topic of conversation at the village Christmas party – her parent's friends genuinely shocked that she would ever consider 'not going to university'.

It reminded me of a blog I wrote in 2015 entitled 'Don’t tell anybody but... my child is on an Apprenticeship', questioning how many parents thought Apprenticeships were a great thing, only 'not for their child'. In the same year Kaplan's research into School Leaver Recruitment* argued that the role of parents should not be overlooked when trying to change attitudes towards Apprenticeships.

Did you know?

The new Level 7 Apprenticeships lets people gain a qualification equal to a masters degree, in many industries. The new scheme is open to anyone, regardless of previous qualifications.

At a number of events I attended during National Apprenticeship Week in early March 2018, it was very apparent that whilst there was acknowledgement that employers have really embraced the benefits of Apprenticeships and even schools and sixth form colleges are finally providing young people with more information about these alternative routes, it was still the challenge of reaching parents that proved the most difficult to overcome.

A new study supports this view. According to research undertaken by Populus on behalf of the 5% club, 77% of parents agree that Apprenticeships are still given a much lower profile in society than university education. In addition, only 20% of parents felt they had enough knowledge to advise authoritatively on Apprenticeships as an option meaning university remains the 'easier' choice because parents are just given so much more information about it.

However, maybe attitudes are starting to shift. Research carried out by Grant Thornton** in March 2018 found that 79% of parents agreed that Apprenticeships offered good career prospects. In addition to this, more employers are now recognising the benefits of engaging with parents at an early stage when showcasing their offers for school leavers. YBS is a great example. Their website features a parents Q&A section and parents are invited to attend open evenings to learn about career prospects at the firm. These events have senior buy-in from the firm, giving a powerful message to parents that their children's future careers are in safe hands.

A change in attitude is just the tip of the iceberg; we still have a long way to go before Apprenticeships are on an equal footing to university. I am not arguing that we should be engaging in a debate as to which is the 'better' choice.

Headlines such as 'Bright students should shun Oxbridge and opt for an Apprenticeship instead' may grab attention but this isn't helping parents receive impartial, easy-to-understand information, so that they feel empowered to help their children make the best and right decision.

The fact remains that however much work employers put into their Apprenticeship offer, such as that provided by YBS, if more isn't done to help parents consider it, university, which isn't right for everybody, will always become the default position.

Let's hope more is done over the next few years to improve the quality and range of careers advice and that soon there will be more interesting things to discuss at a Devon village's Christmas party than the 'radical' decision of a neighbour's daughter opting for an Apprenticeship over university.

*School Leaver Recruitment: Engagement; Attraction; Assessment
**Generation Apprentice

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