All pathways lead to work
Most young people don’t go to university, yet our education system is designed with the minority that do in mind. If you know from an early age that university is your likely destination then the path is clear: GCSEs, followed by A-Levels and on to university.
For the majority of young people who are not on the path to university, for whatever reason, the road is less clear. There are a plethora of options – including traineeships, apprenticeships, further education colleges, sixth form colleges and full time employment –yet deciding which route to take can often be very difficult. It’s not just young people who find the choice daunting, employers also struggle to understand what the various qualifications, grades and levels mean.
Apprenticeships have become “trendy” again, with more employers realising the benefits of training young people on the job, however there are still many myths and misunderstandings concerning them. Although the number of available apprenticeships has increased, the number of 16-to-18 year olds enrolled is still pitifully low. Increases in participation have mainly come from older workers and existing employers being put on apprenticeship contracts. If apprenticeships are to be valued by young people and employers as a first step on the career ladder, more must be done to increase the number of places available, whilst also ensuring the quality of provision is consistently high and that, once completed, an apprenticeship leads to full time employment.
The UK needs a comprehensive and inclusive youth labour market strategy, with clear and valued academic and vocational pathways to employment. Schools must be better informed of all available options so young people are given comprehensive and accurate careers guidance. The Government must do more to involve employers in the development and delivery of apprenticeships to ensure these are widely understood and valued. The new apprenticeship trailblazers programme is an excellent step, however, in a labour market where large numbers of young people will work in the service sector, it is important that these industries are also represented and meaningful apprenticeships are developed where young people can learn, earn and progress in their chosen career.
The Work Foundation report out today, which we have been delighted to work in partnership with them on, calls for a radical overhaul of the existing apprenticeship system, making apprenticeships relevant to the 21st century labour market. Although the Government, through the trailblazers programme has begun to work with employers on the expansion and development of apprenticeships, the lack of service sector organisations involved is a concern.
Apprenticeships alone will not be the solution to youth unemployment. However, as part of a comprehensive youth labour market strategy that takes into account both vocational and academic pathways, for the full range of industries open to young people, apprenticeships can be a valuable way for young people to get their foot on the ladder and for employers to train young people in the specific skills they require for future success.