It is now more than a year since the Government took office with a manifesto pledge to create 3 million new apprenticeships by 2020. However, if anecdotal evidence is anything to go by, the majority of colleges have yet to get to grips with the issue and do not have a solid plan in place as to how they intend to increase provision to meet targets.
For instance, last November we chaired a FERDI panel session where all of the principals present admitted that their approach to apprenticeship provision was far from scientific, and that employers were “not exactly falling over themselves” to approach them for more apprenticeships. At our conference in March, one of our speakers highlighted the huge challenge his college is facing, which is to increase apprenticeship provision from the existing 2% of the college’s delivery to 30%.
Most colleges would probably agree that increasing their provision to meet targets is just not going to happen by adopting a “business as usual” approach. Rather, they are going to have to radically adjust the way they think about and plan their apprenticeships. But how is this to be done?
The key to successful problem-solving and overcoming challenges often begins by asking some good, pointed questions, and we believe that the key to successfully increasing apprenticeships should start in the same way. In this short three-part series, we want to do just this: ask some of the most important questions that need to be asked around this issue and, as much as we can, offer some helpful answers and solutions.
We want to split these questions into three main headings: strategic, tactical and marketing. The strategic questions, which we’ll be dealing with in this piece, are really those that relate to long-term planning around apprenticeship provision. The tactical questions, which we’ll deal with in the second part, are more about how colleges can reach the right employers, right now. Then in the final piece, we’ll look at the question of marketing apprenticeships, and especially how colleges can begin to overcome some of the stigmas and myths surrounding apprenticeships to make them more appealing to both young people and their parents. It goes without saying that we are only dealing with questions and solutions that relate to our particular field of expertise – the labour market.
The Strategic Vision
Most colleges will readily admit that their current provision is not going to enable them to hit their apprenticeship goals. Nor are their current methods of approaching employers for apprenticeships going to get them there. At the FERDI session mentioned above, one principal said that his college basically took what might be called a scattergun approach, which simply involved the sales team working through a list of phone numbers of local firms. Others around the table concurred that this was largely their current approach.
Colleges are therefore going to have to find ways of expanding their provision, and to do it they are going to adopt a more rigorous and even scientific method. How? Below are three of the key questions we believe colleges should begin asking which, if answered successfully, will lead to a more successful approach.
Are there new apprenticeships we can grow with the industries and employers we are already working with?
The first port of call is surely to look at industries and employers for which the college is currently offering apprenticeships, and to establish whether there might be scope for delivering more apprenticeships. By this we don’t simply mean that the college puts on more of the same apprenticeships. Rather, what we mean is that colleges can delve into the labour market data for those industries, in order to establish whether there are opportunities for growing apprenticeships in occupations other than the ones that are currently being catered for.
Just to give one example, a college might be putting on a number of apprenticeships in the construction sector. But if the data shows that the construction sector is set to grow over the next few years, then it will not just be demand for “building” jobs which will increase; other occupations within the sector will be needed as well, and this gives the college the opportunity to provide apprenticeships for those jobs as well. For instance, two of the Top 10 highest employing occupations within the sector are Production managers and directors in construction, and Book-keepers, payroll managers and wages clerks.
Which new industries and employers can we target in our area?
After exploring the idea of increasing provision within existing industries, a second avenue a college might want to explore is that of looking for new industries and employers to target. But rather than taking the scattergun approach of just phoning through a list of firms, a far better method would be to begin by examining the trends for industry growth in the college area.
Here is where good, granular labour market data is essential. Using such data, a college can identify which industries are likely to be growing over the next few years. Not only this, but the data can also be used to identify what the occupational and skills needs are going to be within these growing industries. By taking this approach, a college is no longer shooting in the dark when thinking about which employers to target. Rather, with the data at their fingertips, the college’s sales team is given both the understanding and the confidence to go after the right employers, in industries that are set to grow, and set out to them just how the college can cater for their needs.
Are there opportunities to offer our apprenticeships outside the college region?
Having looked at growing new occupations within existing industries, and targeting new employers in growth industries, one other avenue that a college might want to look at is identifying potential opportunities outside their region. There are some colleges that are already taking this approach, and it is a good solution for those that run fairly niche apprenticeships, and those that have gained a reputation for excellence in certain types of apprenticeships.
Once again, market intelligence – this time national – can form a key part in this. By identifying areas where demand for a particular occupation is high, or where it is set to grow, colleges who have exhausted the scope for putting on a particular apprenticeship in their region can partner with employers in other regions to run apprenticeships.
These are just some of the questions that colleges might want to ask when developing a more strategic vision of increasing their apprenticeship provision. Yet much as these questions and solutions are key to a more effective approach to increasing apprenticeship provision, they leave us with a key tactical question: how do we identify the employers that we should be targeting? In Part 2, we’ll be answering this question, introducing a new tool which should prove to be a huge help to colleges seeking to improve their approach.
For a more thorough look at the issues raised above, you can download our free Apprenticeships guide by clicking on the picture above. We are also planning to introduce a new consulting offer shortly which will be tailored specifically to apprenticeships. For more information email us at firstname.lastname@example.org