March 16, 2016

Why aren't more UK school leavers considering apprenticeships?

This week (14-18 March) is National Apprenticeship Week in the UK, an initiative from the UK Government designed to "celebrate apprenticeships and the positive impact they have on individuals, businesses and the wider economy." This awareness week is a step towards changing opinions of apprenticeships in the UK: Unlike other EU nations—such as Germany—apprenticeships and vocational training are not seen as first choice for many young people leaving school.

It has been drilled into young people today that going to university is the only way to get a good job, and statistics from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills show that in 2015 working-age graduates would earn an average of £32,500 compared with £22,000 for non-graduates. This may explain why a recent study from City and Guilds showed two out of three young people plan on going to university despite 33% of them not knowing what they want to study.

New research by the Prudential insurance company shows that this disinterest in apprenticeships is likely due to misconceptions about how vocational training works, the pay and qualifications received, and a belief that apprenticeships are low quality schemes. This new research shows that 4% of school leavers believe apprentices work for no pay, and the majority think the pay is under £200 (the average weekly salary for an apprentice in the UK is £257).

Aside from the pay element, 30% of 16 to 18 year-olds in the UK said the information provided to them about apprenticeships was “non-existent”, “very poor”, or “poor”, with more than a third of them deciding not to do an apprenticeship because they did not believe it would provide them with a meaningful qualification. 15% of 16 to 18 year-olds were not offered apprenticeships as an option by their school or college, and 8% believed that they are for students who cannot get into university.

Cathy Lewis, executive director of corporate services at Prudential, said: “Our research suggests that more needs to be done to bring perceptions in line with reality and ensure school leavers understand the benefits of an apprenticeship, particularly in terms of pay and qualifications.”

Werner Eichhorst has written about how vocational training can help young people find a good job in his IZA World of Labor article. He notes that youth unemployment has increased due to the global recession, but also due to a failure for nations to secure the transition from school to work for young people. Eichhorst writes: “Vocational training, in particular in a dual form combining vocational schooling and structured learning on-the-job, is often considered to be one of the most important policy solutions in combating youth unemployment.”

Although building this dual training model would be demanding, and require commitment from educators, companies, and policymakers alike, Eichhorst is clear that it is essential to “bring vocational education and training closer to employer and labor market needs.” This relationship between educators and employers is important for smoothing the transition from school to work for young people to avoid skills mismatches and overeducation. Our author Gustavo Yamada writes: “More university graduates could exacerbate unemployment, underemployment, and overeducation of professionals.”

Further reading:

Read more about skills mismatches and over employment.
Read more about the boom in university graduates.
Read Werner Eichhorst’s article on vocational training.

Please visit our education and human capital subject page for more education and training articles.