Creating the conditions for apprentices’ professional growth

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An action research project has helped us hone in on how best to support apprentices on their ongoing learning journeys

An action research project has helped us hone in on how best to support apprentices on their ongoing learning journeys

19 Mar 2024, 5:00


Anyone working in further education will know that careers advice and guidance is a hot topic in recent Ofsted reports. Off the back of Wigan & Leigh’s ‘good’ rating for its apprenticeship provision in 2022, we decided it was time to pour some much-needed investment into our careers sector.

For too long, the fall in apprenticeship starts has been overshadowed by a celebration of the increased uptake of higher education courses. But the two are not locked in a zero-sum game. It’s time we start looking at apprenticeships as a career stepping stone with genuine value, rather than the poor relation to a degree.

Earlier last year, we received funding from the Department of Education via the Apprenticeship Workforce Development fund for an individual project to implement action research. The six-month career-driven project, which ran from March to September 2023, focused on improving and enhancing the provision of advice and guidance within the apprenticeship journey. The long-term aims were increased achievement, better retention and improved learner destinations into employment or higher education.

During the project, we identified 450 full-time students wanting to go into either an apprenticeship or employment. With the help of ten sector-specific career talks and events, we managed to get 101 of those students onto their chosen career path.

In addition, I received an overwhelming response from other colleges and training providers during a speech I did at a careers talk last October to disseminate the project and to outline the need for more funding and better education around career potential.

It’s vital to increase the knowledge and confidence of staff

One thing that was vital to this project was increasing the knowledge and confidence of staff around providing career advice and guidance to apprentices. Utilising the Education and Training Foundation’s work, which recognises that staff working with apprentices should adopt less of a tick-box approach and more of a motivational coaching approach, we set up to create a continuing professional development training package. This was designed to develop staff’s confidence by improving their knowledge of local market information and, most importantly, their understanding of how to use that information as part of their conversations around careers advice and guidance.

Our other overarching objective was to produce current full-time students with the resources they need to get into an apprenticeship. In pursuing that goal, we also noticed how significant it was to bridge the gap between employers and the college. Not only does this ensure a professional working relationship that will ultimately benefit the apprentice, it also has the potential to promote growth and career development within the business they’re in.

As a result of these efforts, we progressed on four out of the eight Gatsby benchmarks, used to identify improvement in our career provision, and will be continuing these actions in this academic year. We’re already ahead of the curve on the national achievement rate for apprenticeships (currently 64 per cent), but this year we are aiming for 70 per cent of our apprentices to complete and achieve.

Moving forward, we’ll be continuing with the employer events and progression panels, with a particular focus on improving accessibility and increasing networking opportunities. We’ll also be doing another action research project around what role parents can play in terms of advice and guidance for 16-18-year-old apprentices.

We believe that young people need a focus on their professional growth in the same way that all working people do, to inspire, motivate, and gain key skills around their objectives and their development. If we can provide a platform for apprentices to take some time for themselves and their careers, to hone in on their aspirations while receiving effective support from their employers, then we can create a stepping stone on a genuine journey of lifelong learning.

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