Blog: Advancing apprenticeships for young people
Published: 11 Feb 2021
This week is National Apprenticeship Week, so it feels timely to revisit the learnings from my 2011 Fellowship, which explored ways to engage young people and employers in apprenticeships. A decade on from my research in Australia, what has changed in the UK?
"We need to help those young people who are furthest from the labour market and have the least social capital, to develop their skills and find sustainable employment." - Kevin Munday, Fellow
Back in 2011, I noted that the renewed focus on apprenticeships within the UK had led to an increase in people embarking on them. Sadly that trend has not continued over the last ten years. The UK Government apprenticeship statistics for England show that 128,000 fewer people were participating in an apprenticeship in 2017/18 than in 2011/12.
The Apprenticeship Levy funding system introduced in 2017 seems to have resulted in a reduction in the number of people starting apprenticeships. This has led to employers opting to use this funding to train existing, older and higher-skilled workers, rather than younger people or newer employees. In 2018/19, 46% of apprentices were aged over 25, with a growing number aged between 35 and 44. Some 44% were at advanced level (equivalent to A-levels) and 19% at higher level (equivalent to undergraduate level). Only 36% were at intermediate level (equivalent to GCSEs). The latter had been 63% in 2011/12.
Some may question, why does this matter? Of course, skilling up all parts of the workforce has value, but if apprenticeships are only used for existing employees, often by rebadging training that would have happened anyway, it neglects the significant work needed to address youth unemployment as a result of the pandemic. Many young people right now face an age-old problem: if you have no experience, how do you get a job - yet if you do not have a job, how can you get that experience?
The Centre for Social Justice has called on the Government to act quickly to ensure that apprenticeships are ‘right at the heart’ of the economic recovery following lockdown. They fear that young, inexperienced apprentices will be the first to go, over the next few months, and estimate that 800,000 young people will face ‘a barren jobs market’ brought on by Covid-19.
In some ways the situation now is not that dissimilar to 2011. Following the Covid-19 pandemic, the UK economic downturn is likely to have a similar effect on public spending and youth unemployment as we saw following the global financial crisis of 2008. We need to help those young people who are furthest from the labour market and have the least social capital, to develop their skills and find sustainable employment. In addition, we have the extra challenge caused by the closure of schools, leaving many young people without access to education and support for more than six months. We need to quickly help students recover from their learning loss and regain a sense of wellbeing.
At City Year UK, where I am Chief Executive, we are trying to tackle both challenges. We have 155 full-time volunteer mentors aged 18-25, who are giving a year of service supporting students in 25 schools across London, Birmingham and Manchester. These volunteers spend four days a week in school, providing a mix of 1:1 mentoring, in-classroom support, as well as before and after school activities. Then for one day a week the volunteers are off the job, taking part in a bespoke leadership development programme to prepare them for employment. As a result, both benefit: the school students are supported to improve their achievement at school, while the volunteers gain the work experience and skills they need to find employment after their year of service.
A City Year volunteer (left) mentoring a primary school student
Brandon, aged 20, was a City Year volunteer mentor in 2019 and has since gone on to start a sports development apprenticeship. He says, “At the start I was very shy and timid. I was very anxious about the year ahead and had not planned much for my life after school. Over the year, I became more willing to step out of my comfort zone, taking on roles and challenges that I would not have done before. I’ve become more confident in my public speaking and more willing to speak in front of bigger audiences. I am also a lot more organised and I plan everything a lot more thoroughly and in advance.”
I would like to see a more strategic national youth employment strategy. I support the proposal by Danny Kruger MP, for the existing Kickstart Scheme to include service opportunities, in which young people are paid to volunteer for activities with a positive social or environmental impact. I would also like to see additional incentives for employers to take on and retain young apprentices under the age of 25, to ensure there are sufficient follow-on opportunities.
In Australia, where a third of young people take part in vocational education and training, they are providing a strong example of how this can be achieved. The Australian Government has committed $1billion over the next year in training and wage subsidies. A decade on, there is much we can still learn.