The Branding Man (a.k.a Steve Keith) explains why teachers are wrong to write-off apprenticeships

The Branding Man (a.k.a Steve Keith) explains why teachers are wrong to write-off apprenticeships


We last spoke to Steve Keith when he was working at EY. He’s now branched out on his own and is using his teaching, employer branding and apprenticeship experience to add-value to the next generation of employer branding. Disappointed by what he’s read in the recent Sutton Trust report, Steve felt compelled to put pen to paper (fingers to keyboard?), and share his thoughts.

Schools blind to apprenticeships.

The recent report published by the Sutton Trust as part of their #BetterApprenticeships campaign, sharing the attitudes of teachers and their students towards apprenticeships, highlights some quite startling ways in which teachers are unplugging the potential in their students by ignoring the huge opportunities available to them through the increasingly popular alternative.

The poll of 1,246 teachers and school leaders across England found that despite an increased appetite from young people (64%) to complete an apprenticeship, the majority of this influential group are still advising them to apply to university. But why? In the poll, senior leaders cited better career prospects (33%), a lack of information on apprenticeships in general (19%) and poor quality (18%); whilst classroom teachers cited a lack of information about available options (15%), an expectation from their school to attend university (17%) as well as a minority stating that a university education 'is expected' these days (6%).

These assumptions are simply incorrect, and below are just a few myth busters to illustrate my point:

  • The Sutton Trust has also found that those working towards a L5 or above apprenticeship will on average earn £50,000 more in their lifetime than an undergraduate of a Russell Group university;
  • A perceived lack of information on apprenticeships could just be an aversion to finding the time in already busy roles to swim through the VAST amount of information freely available about apprenticeships;
  • A lack of information on the available options is misguided. There are some fantastic websites out there including the RateMyApprenticeship website who revealed their Top 100 employers this week based on the thousands of reviews submitted by apprentices, freely available to read. Those employers alone cover 27,450 opportunities. There is no shortage, only of time to read them all;
  • The quality of apprenticeships, largely hindered by a stigma from generations before, is on the rise with the introduction of apprenticeship standards holding employers accountable to delivering a positive experience to their apprentices. One can at least understand how the ongoing tension between quality and quantity could lead to such conclusions, however is quality really an issue when 98% of those who completed reviews for RateMyApprenticeship said that they would recommend their apprenticeship to a friend;
  • Expectations are simply that. They are not something we should be projecting onto our young people. The social contract we have with university being the answer to everything does not stand up when we are facing a skills shortage that apprenticeships, not university, are the solution for. I understand schools often have no control over how they are measured as successful however until we stop learning to do nothing, our young people will not learn to own their own career planning.

Combine this aversion towards promoting apprenticeships to students, with the message that is coming from home and you begin to see the scale of the problem we have. In a separate piece of research commissioned by EY last summer to launch their Parental Advice campaign it was found that parents did not receive guidance they needed to pursue their chosen career (74%), had ended up in careers they didn't see themselves in whilst at school (67%) and some were even too scared to provide advice in case they hindered their child's future (25%). Of most interest here is an alignment with the opinions expressed by these teachers and leaders – that university was the only option for their child (25%), despite 95% agreeing that apprenticeships were a good thing for the UK as a whole...

So where does this leave us? Our innate ability to know ourselves – and influence our own behaviour – can be significantly enhanced by the advice and guidance we receive from others. Our 'blind spot' is not something new and goes much deeper than just the school environment. It's driven by a flock mentality where we accept the carrot of belonging to avoid being struck by the stick of exclusion.

One size does not fit all

I understand the pressures of teaching. I've been there. I've had the 'what's the point?' questions thrown at me daily. But neither my teacher training or my own background taught me how to advise young people on their career pathways and choices. And let's be honest here, I can't even begin to imagine how I would have dedicated the time needed to provide advice in the detail needed to feel confident I'd done a good job on top of a full teaching timetable, behaviour management, lesson planning, marking and admin the role already demanded. I studied at university for 4 years, a decision I do not regret. The degree I received in Geography was useful when I found myself teaching the subject, however the path I took was largely engineered by a group of adults who didn't know all the information on alternatives and pushed me towards university. At no point did anyone question whether as a bright student, university was in fact, the best and only option for me. I hadn't found my voice back then either, so I followed what I was told in the security that I was at least studying a subject I enjoyed, something I've used to guide the career choices I've made since leaving the classroom. Why are we still insisting on a 'cookie cutter' approach to preparing our young people for the world of work?

Untapped influence

Things need to change, and fast. Surely schools are in the business of helping to mould the citizens of the future? Those that are going to be the change that we seek in the future. Challenging the status quo and moving things forward. We need more education programmes to help our teachers (and parents for that matter) to navigate their way through what is, admittedly, a complicated system with several different levels and application processes lying behind those 'apply now' buttons that provide a moral shortcut and allow us to be passive in this conversation opting for the 'write a personal statement and apply to university' mentality here. The new careers leader role schools are expected to have in place by September is, for me, a step in the right direction. It is still adding to work load but I would argue that unless careers is forced onto the agenda in schools then the attitude of 'university is expected' will never shift. We need to become less wedded to our own ideas of what is best for our young people and provide the impartial, informed careers advice and guidance they are so desperately in need of to ensure they can make their own decisions and reach their potential, their way.


You can register for updates on the launch of The Branding Man here

Monday, 23 July 2018

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