Launched in 2015, degree apprenticeships have since been hailed as an excellent way to bridge the skills gap—but four years on, only a minority of parents and students are aware of what they are. As a result, any strategy to attract top candidates to a degree apprenticeship programme must first strive to increase awareness among both students and those who help them make their career decisions.

Degree apprenticeships can be extremely beneficial to both school leavers and employers looking for better access to graduate-level talent. Designed with the industry’s needs in mind, degree apprenticeships combine work with university study. Apprentices earn a full degree for free while gaining work experience and earning a wage, while employers gain access to graduates with highly desirable and rare skills—including the soft skills gained from interacting with colleagues in a workplace setting.

Degree apprenticeships could, therefore, be the perfect solution to both skills shortages in key industries like STEM, and to the rising fees preventing many from attending university. (Over 100 universities—including Cambridge and several members of the Russell Group—are now on the apprenticeships training provider list). And yet, despite the clear benefits that degree apprenticeships can offer, they are still underused. Why is this?

Awareness of degree apprenticeships among influencers

Many employers have embraced degree apprenticeships and view them as a significant part of their strategy to address the skills gap; a recent report by Universities UK (UUK) found that 89% thought they made apprentices “future-ready” and equipped them with the necessary knowledge to succeed. However, influencers—those who guide school leavers’ career decisions, such as parents, teachers or careers advisers—are oftentimes uninformed about the specifics of degree apprenticeships, and sometimes even unaware that they exist.

The same report by UUK highlighted a “significant lack of information and understanding about degree apprenticeships” among parents of school leavers. A study conducted by AllAboutResearch corroborated these findings. In 2017, just 7.3% of parents could name degree apprenticeships as one of the main apprenticeship options. 

The information provided about degree apprenticeships at schools was also judged to be insufficient by parents and students. Students participating in focus groups for the UUK report emphasised that careers information was excessively focused on “traditional” degree routes, oftentimes failing to mention any other options. While 17% of parents “agreed” or “strongly agreed” that students were given adequate information about degree apprenticeships, 45% of parents “disagreed” or “strongly disagreed”. 

As some of the most influential people in helping school leavers make decisions about their future, it is essential that parents, teachers and careers advisers are knowledgeable about all of the options available and that they can transmit this information accurately. Given how much weight parents’ opinions carry for school leavers, it is bad news for employers setting up degree apprenticeship programmes that few parents have a good understanding of what these can offer. Poor levels of awareness among parents and teachers might be holding back a type of apprenticeship that could help put an end to the skills gap for many employers. 

Given the low levels of understanding among influencers, it might not come as a complete surprise that many school pupils are generally uninformed as well. Of students surveyed by UUK, 27% “agreed” or “strongly agreed” that a degree obtained through a degree apprenticeship requires less skills than one achieved through full-time study. This lack of accurate knowledge may be putting many school leavers off degree apprenticeships.

Increasing awareness of degree apprenticeships among influencers

Despite these statistics, degree apprenticeship programmes are likely to gain increasing relevance in the coming years, benefitting small and large organisations alike. Albeit being unaware of degree apprenticeships initially, when they were informed of what they are and their benefits, 78% of parents surveyed would advise their children to apply. Whether employers will be able to attract high-calibre talent to their degree apprenticeship programmes in the coming years will, therefore, depend on how successful they are when it comes to communicating with influencers about them. 

Some organisations, including UUK, have called for a publicly-funded campaign to increase awareness about degree apprenticeships among students and influencers. But as important as a public-awareness campaign could be in the long run, the quickest and most effective way to increase knowledge of your apprenticeship programmes specifically is to engage with influencers directly. Bespoke events and conversations are essential when it comes to filling in influencers about some of the opportunities they may not know about—and when it comes to increasing awareness of your own company. 

Our Parents’ Information Days are a great platform to reach parents and present your degree apprenticeship opportunities to them. They have seen great success in recent years, with a wide variety of employers exhibiting their different school leaver programmes to parents. Harriet Jones, student recruitment adviser at EY, commented on Parents’ Days: “There was definitely a shift in the knowledge of parents on apprenticeships as we had a great number of informed conversations.”

And engaging influencers certainly isn’t limited to just parents. Our Early Careers Conference is aimed at bridging the gap between employers and schools, keeping the latter in the loop about the multiple school leaver opportunities available and the employers that offer them. The Conference is an opportunity to network with careers advisers and other careers recruitment professionals, ensuring no school leaver programmes go unnoticed by potential apprentices. You can get your tickets for the Early Careers Conference 2019 here. 

When influencers are well informed, they pass on their knowledge to school leavers and are better equipped to help them explore a range of different options. Keeping parents and schools up-to-date about the opportunities on offer will generate a pool of talented and knowledgeable candidates for your apprenticeship programmes. If you would like to know more about how our events can save you time and money in your recruitment efforts, or if you would like to get involved, feel free to get in touch.

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