Addressing the apprenticeship information gap: How employers and the education sector can improve access by finding solutions together

Taking the first steps out of school and into higher education is an exciting time in many students’ journeys. But school leavers can’t make key decisions about their future without understanding the full range of choices and opportunities available – and importantly, how to access them.

There’s no doubt that our growing population needs a skilled workforce to meet the demands of modern society. The skills shortage was deemed the second biggest risk to UK businesses in 2023, and as cost of living challenges persist, the landscape around post-school prospects is changing.  

Our data shows that 40 percent of all UCAS registrants are interested in an apprenticeship – a figure that is set to grow. But when 1 in 3 students don’t receive information around apprenticeships from their school or college, these prospects are hindered. The information, advice and guidance gap is plain to see.  

Lindsay Conroy, National Head of Apprenticeships at UCAS, joined FE Week’s Annual Apprenticeship Conference in February to discuss the key challenges facing young people today, how UCAS is supporting them, and what the apprenticeship sector can do to create a more inclusive and accessible apprenticeship landscape for all. 

Meeting the demand 

Our population is growing, and with it, a pool of talented learners eager to earn. At UCAS, we anticipate that between now and 2030, we’ll need to create around half a million more opportunities in education for 18-year-olds as they leave secondary school.  

We’re in a pivotal period where employers should be capitalising on this demand to improve their talent pipeline and encourage a more diverse and representative workforce – but as economic pressures intensify, many business owners lack the time and funding to train young, new to work, apprentices.  

The challenges don’t end there. 40 percent of students say better careers information, advice and guidance would have led them to make different choices on their education journey.  

The PLMR report found that only 26 percent of teachers are confident in supporting the apprenticeship pathways, compared to the 90 percent who are confident in supporting the well-trodden university application pathway. 

“Teachers are time poor and schools are cash poor, so there is a real opportunity now to make it easy for teachers to support the apprenticeship pathway and that is one of our aims at UCAS that personally, really excites me”, says Lindsay. 

Access is another key barrier. Three in five would-be apprentices didn’t pursue the route because they couldn’t find an opportunity in their local area, and those from lower socio-economic backgrounds were less likely to have support during the often-complex apprenticeship application process. When we look at degree opportunities, just 12 percent of starts in the under-19 age category come from the areas of greatest deprivation, and over 29 percent come from the least deprived areas. 

“We are at risk of providing further advantage to those that are already the most advantaged in society”, Lindsay explains. 

So, in an increasingly competitive landscape, how do we stop the growing disadvantage gap? 


Break down the barriers 

Our mission is to advance and assist in the advancement of education. We’re well known for our university admissions service, but as an independent charity, our impact stretches far beyond this.  

With unique access to data and insights, we focus on fairness and impartiality. Learners place their trust in us to support them in exploring and deciding the best next step for them in their education. So when our research with The Sutton Trust highlighted that only 6 percent of students found information about apprenticeships very easy to access, we knew we had a challenge on our hands.  

It is our collective responsibility as a sector to tackle this gap, and widen the knowledge around apprenticeships. We’re there from the very beginning of a learners’ education pathway, as Lindsay explains: 

As a charity, supporting the disadvantaged is at the heart of what UCAS does. Our apprenticeship services will seek to make it easier for those from less supported backgrounds to make informed decisions.   

We are showing every person who uses our services relevant apprenticeship opportunities at each stage of their personalised journey.

Our goal is to ensure every part of the learners’ journey is equipped with information, advice and guidance to encourage informed decision making.   

We listen to what students have to say, and use our expertise to provide detailed reports like Project Next Generation, which gives employers and training providers the knowledge they need to prepare their upcoming workforce.


A collective effort 

When it comes to accessibility, an all-hands-on-deck approach is key. Employers and education providers alike need to actively participate in discussions surrounding the challenges young people face, and work together to provide solutions.  

“Now we need the sector to come together, through the critical work that training providers and colleges do with employers, to help create opportunities.   

“We need to be talking about population growth, and that young people will bring innovation, new ways of thinking and new skills to the workforce. They will be the population who tackle the skills shortages employers are crying out about”, Lindsay explains.  

In order to meet the demands of our ever-changing society whilst empowering school leavers to pursue the path that’s right for them, Lindsay believes that careful workforce planning is vital: 

We need to be talking about the disparity in the supply and demand for apprenticeships, and working with employers to plan their future workforce with the young talent coming out of education in mind.

A recent report by The St Martin’s Group revealed that the most successful apprenticeship employers rated hiring new apprentices into a role as the most impactful reason for their successes. In order for this effect to take hold across multiple industries, we must look to improve apprenticeship opportunities by creating strong partnerships in the sector. 


Find the right talent for your apprenticeship vacancies 

It’s clear that we have a long way to go to bridge the information, guidance and advice gap surrounding post-16 options. At UCAS, we’re committed to making apprenticeship opportunities more accessible and visible, but we need the entire sector to pull together to inspire a generation.  

We understand young people, what drives and motivates them, and how to ensure they choose the right pathway. Partnering with UCAS provides valuable insight into the UK’s largest talent pool. As an employer, you can target candidates with the exact qualifications, skills and characteristics needed to support your business and address any talent shortages. 

UCAS can also present your brand as an employer of choice for the next generation, helping you to educate this talent pool prior to application. By gaining applications from a talent pool that has a stronger understanding of your offer, you’ll be more likely to recruit the right learners for the right programmes.  

Find out more about our apprenticeship services and how you can partner with UCAS to support your apprenticeship recruitment strategy.  

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