Apprenticeships at EY are serious business

Apprenticeships at EY are serious business


Steve Keith, Marketing and Communications Lead – Apprenticeships at EY, updates us in this interview about the great work they’re doing

As a former teacher, Steve’s brilliantly placed to use his experience to attract students who might have thought a career within EY wasn’t within their grasp. EY has worked hard over the years to promote apprenticeships as an alternative to university, for students who want to combine learning with starting their career early. Here Steve reveals more about what they’ve been up to and their plans for the future.

How long have you been working at EY?

I joined back in 2010. I'd been teaching geography in a secondary school out in Ilford, where I'd completed the Teach First Programme.

Back in 2010, EY was starting to increase the range of programmes on offer for school leavers. We had a sponsored degree programme in partnership with Lancaster University, however we were also keen to build upon an existing school leaver programme running in our transactions team. Our attraction strategy was much less sophisticated than it is today and centred solely around local schools outreach.

Since the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy, has it changed the way you do things at all?

In support of the Government’s ambition to create three million apprenticeships, we augmented our existing school leaver programme with an Ofsted accredited apprenticeship scheme, with students now receiving a professional apprenticeship qualification. We’ve also been awarded employer provider status, which will allow us to officially deliver apprenticeship training to our people. Part of the Government’s apprenticeship reforms, employer provider status recognises the role business can play in driving the quality of apprenticeships, helping more young people into the world of work, and helping to bridge skills gaps in the UK.  

What does your role entail?

I work across our student recruitment team, and a new team dedicated solely to the delivery of apprenticeships at EY. I’m focused on the marketing, external and internal communications of all of our apprenticeship opportunities. It’s a busy role, with a lot of variety and I find myself developing new skills all the time and being constantly challenged – something which has been really important to me over the last seven years at EY. It’s a great place to work, and I’ve always felt supported when working towards my career goals.

How many apprentices do you recruit and what’s the size of the team that delivers?

The number of hires we’ve made has increased by over 170% since 2012. For our 2018 intakes, we’re looking to hire over 200 apprentices nationally.  The two teams overseeing apprenticeships cover everything from business engagement, exploring demand for apprentices across the firm, to candidate attraction and selection, to mentoring, coaching and developing the apprenticeship curriculum.

What apprenticeship schemes do you run?

The first is our business apprenticeship. It lasts up to five years and runs within our assurance, taxation and transactions service lines. Apprentices first work towards a certificate in finance accounting and business, then they work towards an ACA qualification that's aligned to the service line they’ve chosen. Some star performers complete their professional exams faster than expected, qualifying at least a year before a graduate, who had attended university and then joined the firm on our graduate scheme.

Our latest programme is the EY degree apprenticeship in digital innovation. We launched this over the summer in partnership with Ada, the National College for Digital Skills. It’s a three-year apprenticeship programme. The apprentices will spend time studying at Ada with a focus on software engineering, and time working within our technology consulting practice.

What impact have apprenticeships had on the business?

It’s been incredibly positive. We get a lot of great feedback on our apprentices from the teams that they're working in, but especially from our clients. Rather than waiting for three years until someone graduates from university, we can bring top talent into our business earlier. Apprentices have a fresh perspective on business, they add diverse perspectives to our team and extra value to our clients.

With the direction of travel in business towards digital and technology, the apprentices’ contribution is invaluable. They are the generation that grew up with an iPad in their hand. They’re going to be future leaders within business, so it's important we're running schemes that give them the opportunity to show us what they can do.

Is that reflected in the social mobility of the people you’re recruiting?

Absolutely. Having come from a teaching background myself, it used to break my heart when students were limited by something as simple as academics or their background. Apprenticeships can help to level the playing field for some young people. It’s why a couple of years ago, we reviewed our recruitment process and decided to remove academic entry criteria from our student recruitment process. Students no longer need to have 300 UCAS points to start an apprenticeship application. In the first year we saw an increase in applications from students who wouldn't previously have been able to apply by 19%.

What have been the biggest challenges so far?

I think the biggest challenge is the stigma around the word apprenticeship. And whilst the perception has shifted, with lots more young people being open to the idea, I feel more can be done to help inform parents and schools. This summer EY launched a Parental Campaign, to help arm parents and others, with the latest information on apprenticeships, opportunities for young people and what the future of work is likely to look like. It helped to challenge out of date careers advice and the perception that university is the only route to a quality and successful career. University is the right option for many students – it was for me – but it isn’t for everyone and we want young people to understand that there are alternatives.

What have been your biggest successes so far?

I'd split this into two camps. We’ve done some great campaigns that have really helped educate and inform. Thanks to the great team here at EY, we’ve focused heavily on the candidate experience and on understanding what it is that young people want.

Back in the spring of this year, we ran a particularly successful campaign called EY future skills. We took what the world economic forum was saying were the skills needed for the workplace in 2020 and then we selected five skills that we felt were the most important if you work at EY. The aim was to help young people understand what it is that they need for the future workplace. We’ve also created a workshop, which we delivered in schools, to bring this to life.

Our Parental Advice campaign was based on survey findings amongst 1,600 British parents with children aged 14 to 16 to find out their attitudes towards apprenticeships. We found that over half of them were lacking confidence in advising their children on the different routes into the workplace. What’s more, 25% of them said they felt their advice might have a negative impact on what their child ended up doing.

As a result, we launched the EY Parentaship and invited parent and child duos to spend the day with us. We invited three experts to run workshops with them to dispel some myths and help them understand more about the options available.

But beyond these great campaigns, the obvious successes are the apprentices themselves. We've got a fantastic apprentice who’s helped build awareness, by speaking out on radio and to the media, about her experiences. We’ve got another who’s finished all his exams, who now has the same qualifications as a graduate, and is working to be a manager – and aspires to be a partner one day. Another tax apprentice in Manchester has picked up the award for apprentice of the year twice. She contributes massively to our charity, the EY foundation, and champions disability in the workplace as part of one of our employee networks. And there’s so many more examples like this. So, whilst I love running exciting campaigns, it’s the apprentices that make you proud. They're the proof points that demonstrate what we're doing actually matters.

What have you learned in your time here?

I've learned that for this audience you really need to understand them. You can’t make presumptions.  The mindset of these young people has evolved so fast over the last ten years. And you need to keep up with them.

I’ve also learned that it’s important to try new things and not be too disappointed if they don't work. There is an element, when working with the school leaver market, of trial and error and just having a go. And if in doubt, ask them. Some of our most successful recruitment campaigns are those which were built around conversations that we've had with the young people we meet and hire.

And, finally, what’s coming up in the future?

I think we’re going to see a lot of growth around degree apprenticeships, giving apprentices the opportunity to address skills gaps that we're already facing. It can be a more affordable option than the traditional university route, where students get the best of both worlds. It makes for a very attractive proposition. I would certainly have considered one given the chance again, but then I’d say the same of other apprenticeships available. Just as the world of work is changing, so too should the ways to start your career within it. I look forward to a day when university is no longer the default. We’re on the way towards this, but there is a long way to go.


Tuesday, 7 November 2017

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