Why aren’t teenagers applying for apprenticeships?

Education PR

A new study claims three-quarters (75%) of sixth-formers would consider an apprenticeship more seriously if degree apprenticeships were offered in their chosen career.

Almost two-thirds (63%) of the 1,051 young people interviewed also say that they would be more likely to apply for an apprenticeship if a UCAS-style format was available. At present, would be apprentices must apply to individual companies.

The findings – from the first study to look specifically at Year 12 and 13 student views of apprenticeships – make grim reading for those championing the alternative post-school career path. Only one in six (16%) 16-18 year-olds is currently thinking of applying for an apprenticeship, compared to 96% considering university.

Teenagers overwhelmingly believe that their parents are unlikely to want them to do an apprenticeship. Over half (56%) say their parents would prefer it if they went to university. Only one in five (20%) think teachers would promote an apprenticeship over going to university. The research supports the findings of a recent [July] Sutton Trust poll of teachers that found relatively negative attitudes to apprenticeships among educators.

The low numbers of youngsters who say they are interested in apprenticeships will worry the Government, especially given that most are aware of the advantages of high-level programmes. Over three-fifths (61%) say that they understand that a degree apprenticeship means course fees will be paid for them, that they will earn a salary straight away and they will get a degree without any student debt.

The research also suggests that teenagers associate apprenticeships with lost social opportunities. Over three-fifths of sixth-formers (62%) worry that they will lose out on the prospect of meeting new people at university. And a third (33%) believe that by doing an apprenticeship they will miss out on the opportunity to meet a future girl/boyfriend that attending university will provide. Those considering a career in finance are particularly worried, with two-fifths of them (40%) saying it is a concern. Over half of the respondents (53%) also think an apprenticeship will mean losing out on the opportunity to live away from home.

Pay perception is also a problem. Over half (51%) think apprenticeship starting salaries are too low. The research, by education marketing consultancy GK and Partners, revealed the average starting apprentice salary needed to get a student to turn their back on a place at university is £20,531 per annum.

One glimmer of hope is that less than a quarter (23%) of young people now think of apprenticeships as being for people who don’t get the grades to go to university. However almost half (45%) still worry that they are too low status and not valued by employers.

Of the sixth-formers interviewed for a new report [published today], called ‘Not for them: Why aren’t teenagers applying for apprenticeships?’, most (93%) have an idea of the careers they are interested in pursuing. However, almost three-fifths (59%) believe an apprenticeship isn’t suitable for the career they have in mind. The most popular job options are engineering, science and IT (28%), followed by health and pharmaceuticals (24%), education (21%), finance & accountancy (20%) and media & marketing (18%). Only 7% say they are yet to consider a career.

Lack of suitable information about apprenticeships also continues to be an issue. Over three-fifths (62%) of the students surveyed say that they still don’t have sufficient information about the opportunities.

When the Government unveiled its plans in 2015 to significantly increase the number of apprenticeships they were met with widespread support. Employers, policymakers and politicians of all persuasions agreed that the lack of high quality apprenticeships was denying too many youngsters a meaningful career path and severely damaging economic productivity.

Since then, apprenticeship numbers have fallen by 59% in the year to August 2017 and by a further 27% in the six months afterwards, prompting calls to overhaul the entire programme. Nevertheless, support for the concept remains strong. The Chartered Institute of Management reported in April that 63% of managers believe that the Apprenticeship Levy is needed to increase employer investment in skills, with almost half (48%) expecting to see a rise in new starts over the next 12 months.

Gerard Kelly, whose consultancy GK and Partners commissioned the study, said:

“We commissioned the study because while there have been many polls into employer views towards apprentices there has been very little exploration of school-leaver attitudes.

“Unless employers and policymakers start to understand what is stopping sixth-formers considering apprenticeships as a valid career path they will not attract the candidates that businesses need.

“There will always be a large proportion of youngsters who want to go to university for the experience and who prefer to only start thinking of career choices once there.

“But more sixth-formers could clearly be persuaded to consider the apprentice opportunity, especially degree-level apprentices, if further information was readily available, if it was easier to apply and if annual starting salaries were nearer £20,000 than £10,000.

“The findings also suggest that young people would probably apply in greater numbers if parental and teacher opposition to apprenticeships was reduced and if they could be persuaded of their benefits.

“Employers need to start focusing their apprenticeship message on schools, engaging with parents and making the application system more straight-forward”.

A full copy of the report - Not for them: Why aren’t teenagers applying for apprenticeships? - is available as a free download.


GKP offers education PR, marketing, consultancy and communications management to UK schools, universities and business