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Blog 6 October 2020

Apprenticeships: unleashing the potential

By Asi Panditharatna
Apprenticeships are the gold standard of vocational training. Here are three ideas for how the full potential of apprenticeships can be unleashed.

In March 2020, The Forward Trust became a main apprenticeships provider on the Register of Apprenticeship Training Providers (ROATP). Our ambition is provide a progression route for our learners and clients, while upskilling colleagues in the employment related services sectors. We are lucky to have a team with a great deal of experience in delivering apprenticeships.

I’ve spent most of my career supporting apprentices, learners and employers. This experience has taught me that apprenticeships are the gold standard of vocational training. The recent rise in unemployment figures amongst the young, with 156,000 fewer young people in employment, highlights the importance of the scheme. However, the 50% decline in apprenticeships starts due to Covid-19, and the disproportionate impact on young people and more disadvantaged learners, is deeply concerning.

Here are three ideas for how the full potential of apprenticeships can be unleashed.

Join up the schemes

The Government’s additional employer incentives for apprentices are a welcome development. However, the Kickstart Scheme, Traineeships and Apprenticeships have to be seen as part of one ecosystem, with the DfE/ESFA and DWP helping to join up these amazing programmes. The big risk is that employers will not appreciate the relationship between the programmes, which could reduce their collective impact. For example, as an employer, Forward will progress our Kickstarters and Trainees onto our apprenticeship roles. We believe this is the right thing to do, as it helps to develop and nurture talent and progress people into future careers.

We also encourage levy transfer and the work of organisations such as the London Progression Collaboration. Levy transfer must benefit the sectors that need new talent to sustain their post Covid-19 recoveries. Employers and apprenticeship providers need to be recruiting talented people from disadvantaged backgrounds who may not have had traditional career paths.

Embrace digital

Like many providers during lockdown, we have had our own digital revolution and invested in new online platforms to support our learners. Our experience reinforces the need for digital solutions to become a priority for all employers and providers across the government’s apprenticeships, Traineeships and Kickstart schemes.

We have increased digital skills awareness through our AEB programme; implemented new policies and learner support to improve conduct on digital platforms; and made bursaries and incentives available to increase access to tech, devices, and valuable content. Moving our mentoring from employers onto our digital platforms has had fantastic engagement from clients. Alongside our wider enrichment activities, including support with mental health or substance misuse, social activities and networking, we expect to see improved learner retention and sustainment on vocational training programmes.

Stay focused on careers

Apprenticeships have to be focused on personal development and progression. We have to help learners or clients progress to a positive destination, perhaps a higher level apprenticeship in the near future, job progression, entrepreneurial pathway or university career. Entry level roles are necessary, but they have to lead somewhere, avoiding the dead ends of atypical, zero hours and agency work that too many young people arrive at. Careers coaching and information, advice and guidance are essential to this, along with empowering learners to take advantage of the multitude of existing excellent careers advice platforms.

In July 2020 we launched our new Partners and Employers Network (PEN), for commissioners and employers who are committed to achieving better outcomes for learners and our clients. You can join the network here

Asi Panditharatna, Divisional Director, Employment Services

The Forward Trust’s Employment Services delivers information, advice and guidance (IAG) services, vocational training, employability, enterprise and apprenticeships.

We also support and develop social enterprises. In 2020 we were awarded the Matrix Standard for IAG services and were a finalist in the ERSA Employability Awards. 

Find out more here.