‘Make Ucas a one stop shop for apprenticeships and degrees’

Employers, schools, education providers and local government need to come together to showcase post-16 options, writes the AAT’s Suzie Webb
This month will see many thousands of A-level students throughout the country take that first giant step into the unknown, as they rush to submit Ucas applications in order to comply with the 15 January deadline for the majority of undergraduate courses.

For many of these students, university will undoubtedly be the best route into their chosen career. Despite the surge in student fees in recent years, a survey in summer 2015 still revealed that, on average, graduates may earn up to £500,000 more than apprentices over the course of their lifetime.

However, 2017 could also be the year for learners to consider entering the workplace rather than spend thousands on a degree that may not help their own personal circumstances. It is a shame that following the Ucas route seems to be a default for many in this position, with nearly two thirds of A-level students last summer telling the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) that the careers advice they received was skewed towards university education.

The advice offered is clearly failing some school leavers, who are presented with little or no information about alternative vocational and technical routes available to them, which cover a wide range of industries and professions.

A Ucas ‘one stop shop’
So what steps can be taken to improve the information and advice being made available to learners? The Public Accounts Committee’s report on the apprenticeships programme, published in late November, called on the Department for Education to do more to communicate the value of apprenticeships to potential apprentices, parents, schools and careers services, as well as their value to small businesses in particular. I couldn’t agree more with this. Advice should not simply be restricted to the individual student but also provided to the employer about the value of high-quality professionally qualified apprentices.

Employers, schools, education providers and local government need to come together to showcase the diversity of routes to employment that are available for young people, and empower them to consider their own career plan as well as the information and knowledge they need to decide the best pathway into their career of choice. This would open doors for young people, and would allow businesses to work with schools to foster and promote the skills that they need.

And an extension of the Ucas system – which currently markets itself as being “at the heart of connecting people to higher education” – could be included to show potential apprentices that higher education does not represent the only option available. An integrated portal, bringing together Ucas, the National Apprenticeship Service and other non-academic websites under one managed service could be the best way of ensuring equal coverage of all routes to employment. Such a “one stop shop” could more accurately outline the various options available to young people, and mean they could just as readily apply for an apprenticeship route as they can for universities or other forms of higher education.

The new apprenticeship levy is coming into force in April, providing a sizeable opportunity for UK employers to invest in apprenticeship schemes. While we hope this can act as an incentive for employers to seek the best talent through this system, it’s not enough at the other end of the scale to actually attract potential apprentices in. A report published in September claimed that, despite the government’s commitment to creating 3 million more apprenticeships by 2020, a lack of information, along with financial barriers, could continue to put those young people from lower income backgrounds in particular off the apprenticeship route. Consistency across the piece – making it as easy for those who wish to consider apprenticeships to be able to access the right information, as it is for those who wish to consider a university route or other forms of higher education, could be one huge step in the right direction.

Suzie Webb is director of education and development at the Association of Accounting Technicians​

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