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Bringing it Together

Merging National Apprenticeship Week and National Careers Week embodied the collaboration needed to enhance young people’s aspirations

With the UK facing a skills shortage, concerns over social immobility and growing wealth gaps, the work around skills and careers in schools is more crucial than ever.

Last week marked the 12th annual National Apprenticeship Week (4 – 8 March 2019) but for the first time, this coincided with National Careers Week (4-9 March 2019).

The melding of the two weeks reflects a step change in how apprenticeships are promoted and perceived. In the Skills Service’s own interactions with students, teachers, higher education providers and businesses, apprenticeships are certainly being seen as a more viable route into work.

A recent change in legislation and the introduction of the Gatsby Benchmarks, in December 2017 have helped steer careers programs in schools and supported a more strategic approach to the planning and delivery of high-quality career guidance.  The benchmarks help outline additional methods to raise young people’s aspirations, promote access to all career pathways and enable young people to develop the skills and outlook they need to achieve career wellbeing.  

This kind of comprehensive careers education is essential if we’re to combat social mobility challenges, and make real improvements to empower people in their careers. A poll in 2018 showed that only one third of people think anyone can move up in society regardless of their background. Almost half (48%) of 25-49 year olds believed it was harder for people from disadvantaged backgrounds to move up in society, only a fifth (20%) of 18-24 year olds believe they have a better level of job security compared to their parents and only 18% say they have better job satisfaction. Within the same report, however, apprenticeships were considered to be the best route to career progression.

Developing aspirations and attainment is a challenge that’s being taken seriously by everyone involved in education provision in the region. East Cambridgeshire and Fenland were highlighted as a Social Mobility Opportunity Area in the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Independent Economic Review (CPIER).

Within Cambridgeshire alone we can see a divide between north and south- CPIER  found that in Peterborough, 13.6% of individuals had no qualifications whereas in South Cambridgeshire this was as low as 2.2%. Statistics from Centre for Cities also show that 25.6% of Peterborough residents have higher level qualifications (NVQ 4 / degree equivalent or above) against a UK average of 38.4%.

Educators acknowledging the skills gap is one thing, however, going forward a much more concerted effort is being made to maintain a dialogue with local businesses so we can improve attainment and bridge industrial skills gaps at the same time. Within the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority area there will be a particular focus on Agriculture and Food, Life Science, IT and Digital, Advanced Manufacturing and Manufacturing Materials, Logistics and Distribution, Education and Professional Services.

Crucially, what National Apprenticeship Week and National Careers Week continue to do is give businesses a strong voice. Any organisation can champion their rising stars, at all levels of the business to evidence the career progression. This is particularly useful with challenging perceptions of apprenticeships as the week shows their span from entry level to masters degree equivalent.

Showing progression is as important as getting students interested in a career. Bearing the perceptions of social mobility in mind we have a responsibility to show if someone wants to achieve progression, they need to be thinking of a career, rather than a job, and the personal and professional development that will help them achieve that goal.

Announcements by OpenReach, Amazon, BGL and many more show the more employers are benefiting from the apprenticeship levy. Any employer with a payroll bill over £3 million pays into the levy and even pass on up to 25% from April 2019 to organisations in their supply chain. Such apprenticeships will help develop and protect a business’ talent pipeline to suit their needs, adapt to new technology and processes, and make long-term investments in their workforce. This of course will only help raise skills in these sectors and improve the prospects of staff.

Although apprenticeships may have been the dominant voice last week, initiatives like the Gatsby Benchmarks will help education providers and those working in careers guidance to avoid the trap of promoting one route into work. Those involved in plans for the University of Peterborough know this all too well. There is a real push for as many local businesses to get involved as possible to inform the curriculum and a sense that it must be seen as an institute for businesses to develop their workforce and enhance innovation, as much as for students’ academic attainment.

Merging National Apprenticeship Week and National Careers Week embodies the break down of the silo approach to careers that previously saw a huge push for students to go to university, regardless of the subject matter. Being involved in the week gives employers the opportunity to be part of a national dialogue that’s encouraging people to take a more rounded view of careers provision. Businesses want to have a constant stream of local talent and The Skills Service works with hundreds of employers from disparate sectors who want to inspire a love for their line of work in the next generation.

We need to make sure young people are aware of the different routes into work and the skills they’ll need to pursue certain careers and how they can improve their employability. This way they can select the route that suits their interests, learning style and ambitions.

The sooner we get students fired up about careers the sooner they can choose the route that suits them and, ideally, provides progression, but we must keep encouraging open dialogue between education providers and students’ future employers.

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