Posted by Lizzie ● 3 October 2016

Internal advocates are key to changing the perceptions of apprenticeships

RateMyApprenticeship hosted its annual event on Wednesday 21st September 2016 at the City of Westminster College (CWC) to discuss the latest topics in the school leaver and early careers market. 

The event included a panel discussion, which delivered some excellent insights from a great variety of panelists. The panel included school leaver recruitment experts Steve Keith (EY) and Laura Herbert (Thales), the Director of the National Apprenticeship Service, Sue Husband, CWC’s Careers Advisor Louise Rochford and finally, Ndiwe Rocque, a school leaver at PwC who has recently completed her scheme.

As well as the panel, attendees included delegates from some of the industry's top employers in the school leaver market, which gave way for many insights into what techniques and campaigns have seen success, and which have not. One theme that was prevalent throughout is that the school leaver market is a very different and unique space in comparison to both the undergraduate and graduate market.


The first topic discussed was around the initial and ongoing engagement of school leavers and the different types of campaigns used to attract potential candidates. As Laura Herbert discussed, Thales have seen great success with initial attraction campaigns through the use of social media, video and snapchat, which are all media platforms that the vast majority of 16-18 year olds are native to and engaged with. Where Laura explained it is significantly more difficult is during the application process and ‘keeping warm’ elements of recruitment. As she mentioned, school leavers and their parents tend to expect a more personalised application and recruitment process and often have many questions and interactions with the student recruiters when compared to say a graduate applying for a scheme. Due to the young age of these candidates and the big decision of deciding not to go to university, it is understandable that they need more guidance. However both representatives from EY and Thales explained how time consuming this can be.

A very valid point raised by PwC school leaver Ndiwe, was that this age group and their parents need to know that by choosing not to go to university, they are still doing something proactive and valuable with their time. This helped to emphasise how key pupil’s parents are in the decision making process. It was also discussed that it can be quite common for a candidate to get to the final stages of a recruitment process before making the decision not to pursue an opportunity. Factors discussed as to why this happens included candidates not having the support of their parents and/or school, as well as deciding to go to university instead.


It was agreed by all that there is a long way to go to change the perceptions of apprenticeships and other school leaver programmes and that informing and educating parents and schools was high on everyone’s agenda. But how? Louise Rochford discussed from a school’s perspective the importance of employers being visible in schools through presentations and fairs, as well as communicating directly with pupil’s parents as much as possible. Receiving thousands of applications each year, this is understandably hard to achieve and sustain, however this discussion definitely emphasised just how influential parents are in the decision making process for 16-18 year olds.

“Only 1 in 5 parents feel comfortable and confident to discuss options other than university with their children” - Sue Husband (Director of the National Apprenticeship Service).

Internal Advocates

As Steve Keith explained, getting internal advocates to attend such presentations, fairs and networking events can be difficult due to busy schedules, but also the location of schools and colleges. It was made clear that due to the vast amount of schools and colleges in comparison to university campuses, it is difficult to spread resources around the country. However, having these internal advocates is clearly a very important piece in the school leaver puzzle. As Sue Husband commented, having colleagues on board with school leaver schemes needs to reach up to Chief Executive level in organisations in order to reassure candidates, their parents and schools that they are making the right decision. Without this internal ‘buy in’, changing the perceptions of apprenticeships will be a tough and long journey.

“Attending presentations and fairs at schools is really important, that is where I first heard about PwC and their school leaver programme” - Ndiwe Rocque (PwC school leaver).

The Apprenticeship Levy

As to be expected, the apprenticeship levy was also touched upon at the event and with the Director of the National Apprenticeship Service, Sue Husband being present, her take away advice on the levy was particularly interesting. She gave the audience the following top three tips:

  • Having someone in your organisation who is responsible for the levy is important as employers will be in control of their own levy budget.
  • Employers need to know which schools and colleges they are going to ‘partner’ with in order to reach out to potential candidates prior to the launch of the apprenticeship levy in April 2017.
  • It is important to access your levy account as soon as you can and become familiar with how it is set up. Access to an employer’s digital levy bank account should become available before the end of the year and Sue advised employers keep an eye out for this.

There seemed to be mixed feelings from the panelists and audience members as to the impact the levy will have, but it was clear many employers have invested both time and resource into planning for the levy as much as possible before its launch in April 2017. Generally, it seemed as though delegates were hopeful that it will start to improve the perceptions of schemes and the number of people interested in completing an apprenticeship or school leaver programme.

One of the most important takeaways for attendees at the event was just how different this market behaves to their undergraduate and graduate counterparts and how influential parents and schools are. Also with the uncertainty and changeable nature of this market, perhaps somewhat frustratingly, it was made clear that there was no ‘one size fits all’ solution to cracking this market and that employers are still very much testing the waters. However, this can also be seen as an exciting time for the school leaver space as many organisations are being innovative in their approaches; all the way from student attraction to guiding young people on their schemes.

Overall, the event was a great opportunity for attendees to build contacts, share their experiences and bring employers together to get to grips with the market and to discuss what the future may bring for all stakeholders involved.

For information on RateMyApprenticeship, please click here.

Topics: Industry Insights