The Unstable Allure of Apprenticeships

Can you expect an apprentice to make it to Director one day? We explore.  

Apprenticeships are having a media makeover. Slowly but surely, younger people are warming to the allure of guaranteed work and pay during education. But just this year, the apprenticeship levy was called a "£3.5bn mistake" by leading trade consortiums. What is the truth? Can you expect an apprentice to make it to Director one day? We explore.  


Key Apprenticeship Stats from 2021-23 

The top apprenticeship courses started between 2021-23 were: Team Leader or Supervisor (33,390), Early Years Educator (32,520), Business Administration (31,600), Lead Adult Care Worker (24,990) and Accountancy or Taxation Professional (22,970).  


Rising up the ranks is Data Analyst (11,380), the only technology-related apprenticeship making it into the top 20. Apprenticeships are most common in the Health, Public Services and Care; Business Admin and Law; Engineering and Manufacturing Tech; and Retail and Commercial Enterprise sectors.  


Why isn't the technology industry making better use of the apprenticeship levy?  

Just this year, a letter sent to ministers from the the British Retail Consortium (BRC), UKHospitality, techUK, and the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC) called the apprenticeship levy a "3.5bn mistake".  


Why? They argue that its restrictive nature prevents investment in critical training, stunting productivity and economic growth. Others believe urgent reform is needed to broaden its scope and make it more flexible, ultimately benefiting both employers and the workforce. 


So, it's not a silver bullet for generating grassroots talent. But what kinds of tech apprenticeships are available, and how successful are tech apprentices? Let's dive in.  


Are apprenticeships becoming more popular?  

In 2021-22 (the last full year of data), 546,110 full-time, 75,870 part-time, and 25,240 apprentice undergraduate students entered higher education. Full-time and part-time entrants decreased from the previous year, while apprentice entrants increased since 2018-19.  


16.4% of full-time undergraduate entrants and 65.1% of full-time postgraduate entrants were domiciled outside the UK. 


Are apprenticeships more effective than university?  

The Office for Students (OFS) tracks "progression rates" to answer this question.  


Progression rates indicate the proportion of students who achieve positive outcomes such as managerial or professional employment, further study, or other advancements, typically assessed at a specific point after leaving higher education.  


In 2020-21, full-time first degree undergraduates demonstrated a progression rate of 73.9%, slightly lower for females (71.6%) than males (72.8%), while part-time undergraduates had a higher rate of 82.1%.  


Key to this discussion is the fact that undergraduate apprentices displayed a significantly higher progression rate of 92.9%, marking an increase of 3.5 percentage points from the previous year. Postgraduate apprentices showcased an even higher rate of 97.7%, up by 0.5 percentage points.  


Could apprenticeships be the answer? 

Could this suggest that apprenticeshps are, for want of a less subjective word, "better" at preparing young people for success in the workplace? Until we see major reform across the technology apprenticeships sector, it seems the answer to that question is always going to be, "it depends"... 


It depends on the quality of the apprenticeship you offer. It depends on the training provider your apprentices use. It depends on the capacity you have internally to train apprentices, offer them shadowing and secondment opportunities, and simultaneously get the most out of their evolving skillset.  


One thing you can be certain about is that apprenticeship cohorts are remarkably diverse - for many, the apprenticeship is the opportunity they needed when traditional higher education wasn't right for them. In fact, when we attended the BCS IT & Digital Apprenticeship Awards in 2022, we were struck by the sheer diversity in the apprenticeship cohorts. Winners ranged from trailblazing teens in Digital Marketing, to parents pushing the boundaries of advanced Cybersecurity Degree Apprenticeships.  


What does the future of higher education look like?  

With a growing skills gap appearing between university leavers and graduate joiners, we think "bridging" courses or qualifications may become more popular as companies look to encourage younger talent into the workforce.  


Plus, the 2020 introduction of T Levels - the government's answer to this skills gap - mean we need to start looking more critically at what we expect from school leavers. T-Levels are supposed to be equivalent to 3 A Levels, and they all feature 45 days of required industry placement. As they are phased in, many pre-existing BTEC courses are being phased out.  


The concept is - at its core - highly practical. Time will tell whether T-Level graduates achieve higher progression rates than their A Level, BTEC, or Level 3 Apprenticeships. But the student feedback is positive...  


"I have learned a range of software skills and how they can be applied in a real working environment. I have gained lots of useful experience and knowledge from my work placement and had the privilege of being offered paid work whilst being there which has been really rewarding. 

The work placement were also willing to give me a job which I have accepted. I will be hybrid working, I may even have the chance to work in Florida for a small time. I feel as though the course has put me in a great position for the future. 

Leah Duckworth | Digital Production, Design and Development T Level | Runshaw College" 



"I’m going to Lockheed Martin as an integration and test engineer apprentice. 

My placement at Lockheed Martin provided invaluable experience which will help me go far in the industry. It really helped me open my eyes to what working in the industry really consists of. 

On top of that, it has provided me with contacts In the industry which greatly assisted in securing my apprenticeship. 

  Josh Tice | Digital Production, Design and Development T Level| Havant and South Downs College" 


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