Overcoming apprenticeship application challenges

Recently, I attended an event where a panel of employers were expressing the many frustrations of recruiting apprentices. I’m sure it’s the same for many employers - they receive applications by the hundreds, if not thousands, for their graduate positions, but sadly, not enough for their apprenticeship roles. And that got me thinking - why is this happening, and more importantly, what can we do to overcome it?

Widen the Pool
As I was listening to these employers, it became apparent that the pool of talent they were approaching was very small, and very location targeted - for example:

"We've got apprentice opportunities in the London area, so we're only going to promote this to London schools."

Excuse me, but why? I quickly realised that one of the easiest ways to overcome this lack in apprentice applications is to widen the pool. Surely, in the case of London opportunities, the easiest - and most obvious thing to do - is to expand the search to the home counties. There are plenty of people who commute from Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, Essex… and so on, and so forth… every single day, so who are we to assume that apprentices wouldn’t?! 

On a similar note, are we as employers, too short-sighted in our campaign to make the bold assumption that young people won’t relocate for a job - and yet, they are encourage to do so for university? Inevitably, there will be some who need to know what support structures are available, and in some cases may need some financial support, but similarly, they might not need it at all. 

If you’re offering housing support and relocation allowances for graduates, why not do the same for apprentices too?

Promote, promote, promote…
Whilst it’s obviously not the norm for apprentices to relocate, it is happening - I’ve spoken to two careers advisors in the last day or two who have told me that relocation does happen and their students are ready and willing to do it. The first was from Northern Ireland to London, and the other was from Hull to Aberdeen!

I would recommend making other students aware that this is happening - and that it can work. Case studies, articles and - even videos - on your website and through social media can help expand your search and encourage talent from even further afield.

Time to change the tactics when it comes to recruiting apprentices

Current popular approaches
Most companies are doing two things to promote their alternatives to university: job boards and face-to-face activity. I’ve broken these down into pros and cons:

  1. Using a job board:
    Pros: It’s immediate. You have an immediate need to promote an opportunity and a job board is easy, quick and it will very quickly reach a volume of potential applicants. 

    Cons: There is no interaction and this can make your organisation seem quite inaccessible and daunting. Is there a human on the other side of my application? Interaction is vital - remember, young people are facing pressure from parents and friends to take that more trodden path of university!
  2. Face-to-face activity
    Pros: You get to interact! Meeting someone in the flesh is a real benefit for both the employer and the young person in terms of influence, but…

    Cons: … Let’s be honest, most companies don’t have the luxury of time or money to get themselves into the vast numbers of schools that they would like to.

Less-utilised approaches

  1. Targeting groups of careers advisors
    Central London Careers Hub recently found that their database of 1000 careers advisors has a combined impact of around 1,000,000 young people - and that is certainly something to tap into! These advisors have the insider knowledge on which students are interested in the alternatives to university and could help you reach the ones that you want to reach!
    ... a combined impact of over 1 million young people... 

Try for the big hit! Utilise the network of organisations like Prospects (not to be confused with Graduate Prospects), Linking London and AimHigher (who still retained some local authority funding after Connexions disappeared, to provide conferences, emails and training for careers advisors in schools), Association of Head Teachers or the CDI. In some cases, these advisors are on zero hours contracts, so appreciate any help that they can get! 

2. Speaking at careers events
I attended the National Careers Guidance Show last week, and felt that there was a serious missed opportunity for graduate employers to influence careers advisors in the school sector.

University is still the favoured option amongst young people and parents

There were only around five or six employers in attendance who could share details of their apprenticeship campaign, compared with double the number of universities trying to push the HE option - even with the amount of noise surrounding apprenticeships at the moment, the reality is that university is still a powerful influence. 

In my opinion, EY had the best strategy. They were on the speaking programme and had their own apprentices on the stage with them. It was a great way to influence a big group in one big hit. It sounds obvious, but it works every time!

3. Peer-to-peer influencing
Following on from EY’s example above, it’s clear that using an apprentice to promote apprenticeships is a successful approach. But, where I see the real power in this, is when you get apprentices to promote the opportunities to potential apprentices. 

Generally speaking, young people - in fact no, most of us - are influenced by someone or something that we feel we can relate to. This could be someone senior in your organisation, who has a similar personality, or similar early experience to you - but my gut feeling is that by enabling young people to interact with someone who has sat in their shoes in the very recent past, tends to be the most impactful and often provides the push needed to incite an application. 

This isn't new! Universities have been doing this for years... 

Universities and graduate recruiters have been doing this for years through things like alumni groups and networking events. 

The Class Careers model encourages this peer-to-peer engagement through live online workshops - where a young person in a school can chat directly with an apprentice from your organisation - all from the comfort of their own classroom. By removing assembly / class talks by employers, not only do you remove the costs of travelling from school to school, you remove the embarrassment of asking what could be deemed as a ‘silly question’ amongst peers. There is nothing worse than doing a talk at a school, only to be met with no questions from students at the end of it. And this is not because they don’t want to ask questions - it’s because they daren’t ask! On average, in one of our workshops, each student asks between 8 and 12 questions in less than twenty minutes of chat time! 

Now, imagine that in multiple schools, across multiple classrooms…!