FE colleges vs. schools: different attitudes towards apprenticeships

  • Anna Vall Navés
  • 20 January 2020

Most employers market their apprenticeship programmes in the same way to all school leavers, regardless of the type of educational institution they attend. However, our research in 2019  suggested very different attitudes towards apprenticeships among students at schools and further education colleges. Should employers adjust their recruitment efforts accordingly?

What are the differences between schools and further education (FE) colleges?

Further education includes any post-secondary (post-16) education that is not part of higher education (in other words, it’s not taken as part of a university degree). Whereas most schools offer sixth form and A-Levels exclusively after secondary school, FE colleges generally offer a range of courses and qualifications—often including A-Levels as well.

Courses offered at FE colleges can range from basic English and maths to BTECs, A-Levels and Higher National Diplomas (HNDs). But while most offer A-Levels, students who choose to attend FE colleges often pursue vocational qualifications, equipping them with job-specific skills and knowledge that can boost their employability. 

Many will progress from FE colleges to gain work experience or find employment, but taking a vocational course does not necessarily mean students cannot progress on to higher education. Many level-three vocational courses still provide a route to university. That being said, students’ attitudes towards the next steps after graduation are quite different at FE colleges as compared to schools. 

How are attitudes towards school leaver options different at FE colleges and schools?

When we asked school leavers the options they were considering after graduation in 2016, the most popular option was by far university, with 69.8% of respondents listing it as an option. When we asked students attending different kinds of educational institutions whether they planned on going to university in 2019, 68.2% said yes, corroborating previous findings. 

However, while almost 70% of school leavers cite university as their preferred option across school types, the percentage changes when we separate the responses of school and FE college students. While 69.3% of school students said they were considering university, only 42.7% of further education college students said the same. 

Similarly, when we asked students whether they would prefer to do an apprenticeship or go to university, 23.5% of school students said they would prefer an apprenticeship, compared to 45.5% of FE college students. While there are clearly exceptions to the norm, it seems that FE college students are generally more keen on the idea of completing an apprenticeship than school and sixth form college students are—and it’s a trend that’s pronounced enough for employers to potentially take into account.

When we asked FE college and school students what level of apprenticeship they would like to complete, we also found some differences between the two groups—albeit less marked. While degree apprenticeships were the most popular option across both groups, more FE college students were open to the option of completing an intermediate (4.6%) or  advanced (5.7%) apprenticeship compared to school students. Surprisingly, however, more FE college students didn’t know the different apprenticeship levels (34%) than school students (26.2%).

Should employers create a separate strategy to target FE students?

Currently, the majority (69.2%) of employers do not have a separate strategy to target students at FE colleges. However, our data shows significant differences in the attitudes and outlook towards school leaver opportunities among students at these institutions, as compared to those at schools. Therefore, devising a strategy to target FE college students specifically for apprenticeship programmes is an option that employers should seriously consider. 

Given that more students at FE colleges want to complete an apprenticeship but seem to be slightly less informed about apprenticeship programmes (fewer know about apprenticeship levels), a good attraction campaign for this group should start with increasing awareness. Second, where school students generally seem to be drawn more to degree and higher apprenticeships, employers might want to take a different approach in marketing opportunities to FE college students, who demonstrate greater interest in intermediate and advanced apprenticeships.

Helping to increase awareness about apprenticeships is something most employers could benefit from in the long term. Often, reaching out to students’ influencers (parents, teachers and advisors) is the most effective way to do this. That’s why, at AllAboutGroup, we host a variety of events targeted at this group, from the School Leaver Conference to Parents’ Information Days, which allow you to speak to parents and other influencers face-to-face about apprenticeship opportunities.

Likewise, our online platforms—receiving millions of vistors each year—can be a great place to advertise, while our small-scale engagement events are an excellent opportunity to target a specific demographic (for instance, FE college students). We can pre-screen candidates to ensure they meet your selection criteria and help you with the logistics of organising an event that will attract more school leavers to your apprenticeship programmes.

Not all school leavers share the same attitudes towards apprenticeships, and often, opinion is split among different kinds of educational institutions. If you would like to learn more about how to market opportunities to FE college and school students separately, or if you’d like more information on the services we provide, please do not hesitate to get in touch here.