In a progressive stride towards more inclusive education, UCAS has introduced its pioneering apprenticeship service, seamlessly incorporating diverse opportunities into the UCAS Hub. This initiative resonates with the evolving ambitions of young people. Recent surveys illuminate a compelling trend: 59% of students in Years 9-12 are contemplating apprenticeships, enticed by the prospect of earning while learning (42%) and acquiring new skills (34%).
However, beneath this promising surface lies the pressing challenge: demand for apprenticeships is swiftly outpacing supply.
In 2023, a staggering 430,000 students expressed interest, marking a 180% surge since 2021, against a backdrop of 189,430 vacancies. Research from UCAS finds a significant proportion of students do not pursue an apprenticeship because of issues in accessing opportunities. Three in five (61%) former applicants did not pursue an apprenticeship because they could not find one in their preferred location while one in three (35%) students previously interested in studying an apprenticeship said they were prevented from doing so due to a lack of roles in their desired career.
Research from The Student Room backs this up with around half of respondents (47%) thinking it too hard to find apprenticeships that suited their interests, and two-fifths (40%) felt that applications for apprenticeships were competitive. Indeed, around one in three (32%) thought it was easier to get a place at university than it is to get an apprenticeship.
Strategy Director at Hunterlodge, Jason Baker, believes the task is clear.
“It’s crucial for businesses to recognise the urgency of the situation. The current surge in student interest in apprenticeships reflects a profound shift in our educational landscape. If businesses don’t act swiftly to meet this demand, the consequences are twofold.
Firstly, there’s the immediate risk of losing a generation of talented, motivated students. These young individuals are actively seeking alternative paths to traditional education, and apprenticeships provide a perfect avenue for them. If they encounter barriers and roadblocks now, they might turn away, disillusioned with the very idea of apprenticeships. This disillusionment could lead them back to conventional education routes, slowing down the progress we’ve made in diversifying educational options.
Secondly, there’s the long-term impact on the reputation and credibility of apprenticeship programmes. If students consistently face challenges in securing apprenticeships, it erodes trust in the system. Trust is hard-earned but easily lost. If potential apprentices perceive that businesses aren’t invested in these programmes, it will take years, perhaps a decade or more, to rebuild that trust.”
Amidst this challenge, there is encouraging news. Influential corporations like PwC, Greene King, and Amazon are proactively increasing their apprenticeship programmes. For instance, PwC welcomed 550 apprentices in 2021/22, with 716 in 2022/23. Greene King witnessed 897 apprentices starting in 2021-22 and 951 in 2022-23, offering an array of 35 apprenticeship courses. Amazon recorded 640 apprentices in 2021/22 and a substantial increase to 1,092 in 2022/23.
Others must follow these examples and start leveraging the enormous advantages apprenticeships bring.