Youngsters have the wrong idea about apprenticeships, says Prudential

Counterfeit cash has been used in premises in Cupar, Auchtermuchty and St Andrews. (stock image - John Devlin)
Counterfeit cash has been used in premises in Cupar, Auchtermuchty and St Andrews. (stock image - John Devlin)

An international financial services group says new research shows that school leavers are misinformed about apprenticeships and are being put off.

Widespread misconceptions about apprentice pay, qualifications and other important benefits are putting many school leavers off pursuing this route to the workplace, according to new research from Prudential, launched to coincide with the start of Scottish Apprenticeship Week 2016.

Despite an average weekly wage of £269 in Scotland, the majority of school leavers (87 per cent) thought apprentice pay averaged less than £200 per week and six per cent even believe apprentices work for free.

The findings raise concerns over the quality and quantity of information about apprenticeships reaching school leavers, as one in 10 incorrectly believe that recognised qualifications are not available through apprenticeship programmes.

More than a third (34 per cent) of 16-18-year-olds in Scotland say the information about apprenticeships in their school or college is ‘poor’, ‘very poor’ or ‘non-existent’ compared with just six per cent who say the same about information regarding university. Stirling-based insurer Prudential has announced the launch of its 2016 apprenticeship programme, which will create opportunities for up to 40 young people who will be paid the National Living Wage. It’s the latest stage of the company’s £4.1 million investment in its apprentice scheme over a four-year period.

The insurer questioned 16-18-year-olds who have decided against an apprenticeship to understand more about their choices and found that over a third (36 per cent) selected other options due to the perceived level of qualification available, despite some apprenticeship programmes offering qualifications equivalent to a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree. A slightly lower number (31 per cent) felt that going to university would make them more employable than completing an apprenticeship and 20 per cent said it was because their parents didn’t see an apprenticeship as a viable option.

A further 15 per cent decided against an apprenticeship because their school or college did not position it as an option and eight per cent felt apprenticeships were for students that could not get into university.

Despite these misconceptions, more than 25,0003 modern apprentices started training in 2014/15, exceeding the Scottish Government’s target.

Cathy Lewis, Executive Director of Corporate Services at Prudential, said: “The pendulum is beginning to swing back towards apprenticeships, with university and college no longer the default options for many school leavers. As familiarity improves we are seeing a new generation gradually rediscover the value of apprenticeships, helped by the increasing availability of schemes across a wide range of industries and sectors.

“However, our research shows that perceptions of older style schemes linger, not reflecting the reality for today’s apprentices, who have access to invaluable training and experience and recognised qualifications, while earning a wage.

“The good news is that much work is already being done to promote the value of apprenticeships. Prudential is highly supportive of initiatives such as Scottish Apprenticeship Week that raise the profile of the opportunities available to those seeking a viable alternative to higher education.”

Despite the availability of apprenticeships in a cross-section of industries, many young people believe options are limited – around 29 per cent of those who decided against an apprenticeship were put off because they thought programmes were limited to specific industry sectors. For example, the majority (57 per cent) did not know that apprenticeships were on offer in the financial services and insurance industries.

The research also showed that more than half of school leavers (52 per cent) said they thought a university degree would be preferred by employers while two fifths (41 per cent) thought the two options would be held in equal esteem. Just seven per cent thought that apprenticeships would be preferred to a university degree by employers.

The Prudential apprenticeship programme goes beyond just offering employment. The aim is to arm young people with the qualifications, knowledge and life skills needed to embark on a successful career in whichever field they choose.

The programme offers placements in a wide range of roles in the company, including within its IT, HR, customer services, operations, sales support, distribution, financial planning and marketing departments. Positions are available within Prudential’s Stirling, Reading and London offices.

To date, Prudential has recruited over 130 young people to its high quality, work-based training programme, which gives all apprentices the opportunity to achieve a recognised vocational qualification as well as gaining important work-based skills. It is based on a 16 month training contract, with all apprentices being paid the National Living Wage.