At Quids In! we’ve identified the apprentice scheme as a great potential equaliser for those from low-income households. In a world where university is beyond the reach of some, apprenticeships offer another route into a stable career. We’ve run a feature piece on apprenticeships in the latest issue of Quids In! (you can read that here) and will be promoting the scheme through all of the channels we have available to us, including in our work with Clean Slate. We’re reaching out to any of our partners throughout the QIPRO network who share our vision and want to work with us to promote the scheme to our shared audiences. Get in touch.
In 2017, the government made sweeping changes to the way apprenticeships worked. Central to this was the introduction of the apprenticeship levy scheme, a tax on large employers (defined as employers with a wage bill exceeding £3m a year) who pay 0.5% of their wage bill into a centralised pot. This money can then be accessed by large public and private sector companies to fund apprenticeships. For smaller employers (those with a wage bill of less than £3m), the government provides up to 90% of the cost of an apprenticeship, with the employer making up the rest.
How they work
Apprenticeships are now offered at four different levels, with each corresponding to an equivalent education level:
- Intermediate (GSCE level)
- Advanced (A-Level)
- Higher (Foundation Degree and above)
- Degree (Bachelors or Masters level)
Apprenticeships are listed on the government apprenticeship portal and applicants are offered support with the application process, from filling out forms to interview tips.
An apprenticeship is not just for school leavers. After an initial pilot scheme aimed at over 25s was run in 2005, age restrictions were permanently relaxed. There’s now no upper age limit. In fact, in 2016 there were more 25-49-year olds on apprenticeships than both under 19s and 19-24-year olds. The variety of sectors has changed dramatically, too, with health and public care services now the leading sector for apprenticeships.
Even with all of the chopping and changing currently taking place in Westminster, the apprenticeship scheme has survived as a flagship policy. It has received cross-party support and seems to be here to stay. The government aims to create 3 million apprenticeships by the end of 2020. It’s core to their further education programme, and there are between 12,000 and 20,000 vacancies open at any one time. Over 170 industries now offer apprenticeships, and those who complete the scheme boost their earning potential by 10% on average. With university fees nearing £10k per year, and with growing concerns over many universities financial viability, apprenticeships have become a great alternative, one that avoids colossal debt and offers a head start in a career.
With all this being said, apprenticeships can still carry a stigma, and the negative attitude towards them from many in the education system (as we reported in our feature piece) is anecdotally a common theme. As Matt Carpenter, who’d completed an apprenticeship with the Navy, told the BBC: ‘School was very, very anti-apprenticeship - even when I had the place, they were very against it. Up until the last day, they were still asking, 'Do you really want to do this?'. Yet, at the tender age of 21, having completed his apprenticeship Matt is now debt-free and on an annual wage of £37,000. Yet the stigma around apprenticeships may partly explain why, even with the government pouring resources into the scheme, the number of apprenticeships has been falling for the last 3 years.
Of course, there are valid concerns over the low rates of pay that apprentices receive. The hourly rate for apprentices under 19 years of age currently stands at a meagre £3.90. But that figure doesn’t necessarily tell the entire story. It’s only the minimum an employer has to pay and many employers top the rate up. The hourly rate also goes up in the second year of an apprenticeship and in 2016 the average hourly rate for an apprentice was between £6.85 and £7.10.
The promotion prospects for those who have completed an apprentice scheme are often better than those who take up graduate positions, in part because they’ve already worked their way up through a company’s ranks while undertaking their apprenticeship. As David Fagan of Make UK recently told the Guardian “A large number of business leaders in the sector are former apprentices themselves”.
All in all, we feel the modern apprenticeship scheme is under-promoted and has the potential to transform the lives of many people across the UK. Whether it’s offering young school leavers a route into a career that would otherwise be off-bounds or helping people who are mid-career get into better paid, more stable work, we think apprenticeships are a force for good that deserve to be talked up.
If any of our professional network partners would like to explore the ways in which we can work together to promote apprenticeships to low-income households, please contact:
Partnerships Manager, Lisa Woodman on: firstname.lastname@example.org or 07548 627303.