Apprenticeships: common misconceptions and their implications

  • Anna Vall Navés
  • 18 November 2019

For many parents, schools and students alike, university is still perceived as the best career path, with apprenticeships and school leaver programmes sometimes being thought of as “second rate” options. But what are the implications of deeming apprenticeships “second rate”, and how might employers help combat this perception?

How are apprenticeships perceived by school leavers and their influencers?

In the making of AllAboutResearch’s How Schools Work documentary, numerous careers advisers and students told us about some commonly-held beliefs surrounding apprenticeships. Most frequently, students and advisers noted the “stigma” around apprenticeships and the belief that they were—as Debbie Partridge, a careers and employability manager at King Edward VI College, told us—a “second-class option”. 

Research carried out in partnership with YouGov showed that 26% of parents think their child is “too smart” to do an apprenticeship, with this percentage increasing to 30% among parents in London and the North of England and parents in the ABC1 (generally those with higher incomes). This data seems to corroborate the idea that apprenticeships are still viewed as being in some way inferior to a university degree. 

This misconception is still rather widespread around both students and their influencers. Ewan McGreavy, a student at Lawrence Sheriff School, noted: “Especially at more selective schools, there’s definitely a stigma around doing apprenticeships, that you’re doing an apprenticeship because couldn’t cut it at university… and that’s not always the case”. 

Yet many students and their influencers are not fully aware of what an apprenticeship constitutes or the different kinds of apprenticeships available. The majority of parents we surveyed in 2017 were unable to name the four levels of apprenticeships. Most students we surveyed (68.2%) in 2019 told us they wanted to go to university—but when presented with an anonymous choice between university and a degree apprenticeship after being given information on them, 71.55% would rather do the latter. 

As Sam Pickering noted, apprenticeships constitute a different kind of learning better suited to people who prefer “hands-on experience [and] getting out there and doing things”. Yet some of the incorrect ideas that are frequently held about alternative school leaver options can have very real implications.

The implications of thinking of apprenticeships as “second class” options

Although, as our data suggests, parents are not always the most informed group about apprenticeships and other career options, they are the group that students rely on the most to make their career decisions. 79% of school leavers cite them as the most important group when it comes to helping them make decisions about their future, and 56% say they have a direct influence over their final decisions (over three times more than the next most influential group, subject teachers).

When we asked parents the options they would like their children to consider, 43.1% of parents said they would like their children to look at university alone, whereas only 18.9% would like their children to look for apprenticeships exclusively. This disparity becomes even more pronounced when looking exclusively at the parents of children in schools (rather than further education colleges).

When other influencers also emphasise university as the prefered post-school route, school leavers’ options can become quite narrow. Vanessa Kenneth, a careers adviser at St Marylebone School, explained that “schools have headlines about how many Oxbridge applicants they have and how many medics they have” but rarely about some of the impressive apprenticeships students get.  University “is quite an ingrained aspiration from quite an early age”, and according to Kenneth, “vocabulary changes” still have to be made at schools surrounding post-school options. 

The statistics certainly back up this need for a change in vocabulary. While only 23.5% of school students would rather do an apprenticeship than go to university, this is true of 45.5% of further education college students.

When school leavers’ main influencers have erroneous ideas about apprenticeships or deem them “second class” options, they can have a seriously limiting effect on school leavers’ options. The government has launched awareness campaigns about apprenticeships, but what can employers do to ensure their apprenticeship programmes are not undersubscribed due to misconceptions like the ones outlined above? Our research suggests that the most important thing employers should do is reach out to school leavers’ influencers, the people that have the most power over their decisions. 

Google and careers websites are unsurprisingly cited most often as the resources used by parents to learn about school leaver options. With online methods of gathering information on careers becoming ever more relevant, and with AllAboutSchoolLeavers cited as the careers website that careers advisers most recommend, advertising your opportunities on our website is an excellent way to reach influencers. Our employer profiles are one of the first places potential candidates will go to learn about your company and opportunities, as well as be redirected onto your page. We can also help you advertise your school leaver opportunities through targeted email campaigns to influencers, utilising our database of over 2,700 careers advisers and teachers and 8,000 parents.

We can also help you engage with influencers and school leavers by organising events, be they school visits, in-office events or Parents’ Information Days. Allowing you to engage with parents face-to-face and helping parents learn all they need to know about school leaver programmes, our Parents’ Information Days are an outstanding way to raise awareness about apprenticeships and highlight the opportunities available at your organisation. 

Increasing awareness of the benefits of apprenticeships and changing common misconceptions can both boost the number of quality applications to your programmes and broaden the options available to school leavers. For more detailed information on the school leaver market and ways to advertise apprenticeships to influencers, do not hesitate to get in touch here.