This week, I am very pleased to be celebrating National Apprenticeship Week. I choose the word ‘celebrate’ carefully, because I really feel that apprenticeships – and the children and young people who choose them – don’t get the recognition that they should.
We need moments like these to celebrate apprenticeships because, once again, the number of people starting apprenticeships last year was down against the previous academic year. While there has been a slight rise in children and young people under 19 starting apprenticeships against 2020/21, this age group has declined more than any other age group since 2015/16. This is disappointing considering the genuine efforts to increase the take-up of apprenticeships over the last half decade.
It is also surprising considering that a consistent message I have heard from children is that they want more exposure to information about apprenticeships, traineeships and other vocational routes to a good career. I have previously written about how much children spoke about apprenticeships in The Big Ask, the largest-ever survey of children I conducted in my first year in role.
One of the recurring issues that children raise about apprenticeships is that they lack visibility and status. As some children told me:
“There is little to [no] talk about the option of apprenticeships and instead teachers and advisers talk as if there is no option but university. This can make it feel like there is less support for students like me who are most likely going into an apprenticeship after sixth form” – Boy, aged 17.
“I think for those people who take anything vocational there is a massive stigma around it” – Girl, aged 17.
The stigma around apprenticeships is wrong-headed because these are exactly the skills we need and should be celebrating. For example, many of the jobs on the Government’s list of shortage occupations for skilled worker visas are accessible through apprenticeship routes.
This year’s theme is ‘Skills for life’, which I think sums up what so many children want from their education. Children want to be prepared for life, and not just for exams. For many, apprenticeships are the perfect opportunity to learn in a way that works for them, to gain practical skills and to find their place in the world of work.
So, I hope you’ll join me and others in celebrating apprenticeships this National Apprenticeship Week.