How the skills minister plans to ‘transform opportunity’ via apprenticeships

Looking to kick off a “skills revolution”, Burghart says the government is making apprenticeships more flexible to reflect modern employment and pledges to address the bureaucracy involved.

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The sluggish adoption of marketing apprenticeships remains a pressing issue within the industry.

Just 0.8% of the 4,463 marketers responding to Marketing Week’s 2022 Career and Salary Survey have studied for an apprenticeship, versus the 91% of marketers who hold a bachelor’s degree and above.

Given more than half (57.9%) of the survey respondents work for a company with no marketing apprenticeship, the low uptake of such routes into the industry is hardly surprising.

Apprenticeships and Skills Minister Alex Burghart insists the government is committed to creating alternative routes into education and working to make apprenticeships fit with the requirements of the modern workplace. 

However, with marketers citing a range of issues preventing them from introducing a marketing apprenticeship, from a general lack of awareness to fears over the bureaucracy involved and concerns about the level of talent, it is clear work needs to be done.

What is the government’s current vision for apprenticeships, with a particular focus on executive apprenticeships as in marketing?

“Our goal across all levels is to ensure that we have high-quality apprenticeship standards designed by employers that will give students the skills the economy and society need.

“Apprenticeships can play a huge role in this and I want to continue to shift perceptions of post-18 study so that young people and their parents see the value of choosing a high-quality apprenticeship, such as those we are discussing in marketing, as a quality alternative to traditional university routes.

“Apprenticeships are a fantastic way for people of all ages to develop the skills they need to progress across a huge range of exciting and in demand industries. They are designed and developed by industry, so they provide the skills that individuals need to get on the path to a well-paid job and for businesses to build a skilled workforce.

What’s the problem with marketing apprenticeships?

“Growing apprenticeship starts also remains a key priority, so it is great to see a big rise in the number of people starting apprenticeships so far in the first two quarters of this academic year – up 26% on last year.

“We will continue to work with employers to boost the number of apprenticeships available, including by increasing apprenticeship funding by £2.7bn to support businesses of all sizes to build the skilled workforce they need.

“We are also focused on supporting more SMEs to take on an apprentice through more flexible apprenticeship models, such as the new Flexi-Job Apprenticeship scheme and our online service that allows larger employers to pledge levy funds to smaller firms.”

Do you personally see apprenticeships as a way for people from diverse socio-economic backgrounds to break into a career like marketing?

“I do, yes. Apprenticeships give people of all backgrounds and ages the chance to earn while they learn, and it is this combination of traditional study with invaluable on-the-job experience that makes them such a good option for accessing a career like marketing. Analysis by the Social Mobility Commission has shown that disadvantaged learners stand to achieve greater boosts to their earnings.

“Apprentices can build their skills, network and professional confidence in the workplace, while also gaining the core skills required to meet the needs of businesses and the economy with the support of their employer and training provider.

“To help make this a reality we are supporting young people through the free ASK programme, so they have the latest information on the options open to them. We are supporting employers too, paying additional funding to help them take on young apprentices and care leavers, as well as sharing practical advice and tips through the Apprenticeship Diversity Champions Network.”

Has the pandemic had an impact on both the uptake of/dropout rate from apprenticeships, especially given people who were made redundant or furloughed may have struggled to transfer their apprenticeship to a new role?

“Covid had an impact on the uptake rate for apprenticeships and also on achievement rates.

“But I’m really pleased that we are seeing the number of people starting apprenticeships across England so far this year bouncing back to pre-pandemic levels. We want to see these numbers grow even further so more people gain the skills they need to build a great career and we are supporting more starts in smaller businesses through our levy transfer scheme and Flexi-Job Apprenticeships.

“Achievement rates have also started to improve on the newer employer-designed standards. Even in normal years there are many reasons why people don’t complete their apprenticeship, such as changes in family circumstances, or leaving for positive personal reasons such as getting a promotion.

Apprenticeships can play a huge role in this and I want to continue to shift perceptions of post-18 study.

Alex Burghart, Apprenticeships and skills minister

“That said, we know more needs to be done to ensure all apprentices get a high quality experience and we support as many people as possible to complete their apprenticeship.

“We have raised the bar to make apprenticeships more rigorous to properly reflect employer needs and we are also taking steps to drive up quality and ensure apprentices get a great experience. This includes more support for providers and employers, and making sure prospective apprentices get the best possible information, advice and guidance so they can make informed decisions about their futures.”

We have discovered various barriers preventing brands from offering marketing apprenticeships. What does the government have planned to address these issues?

“We have already taken a number of steps to boost the number of apprenticeship opportunities available. This includes:

  • Increasing apprenticeship funding to £2.7bn by 2024-25 to support businesses of all sizes to build the skilled workforce they need.
  • Introducing an incentive scheme in August 2020 to support employers to create new apprenticeship opportunities and support businesses during the pandemic. It is great news that the latest figures show (as of 8 March 2022) that claims have been submitted for over 179,000 apprentices since it was introduced.
  • While we do not plan to extend the incentive scheme, we will continue to support employers with the cost of apprenticeship training and through the Apprenticeship Levy. However, employers taking on a 16–18-year-old will remain eligible for a £1,000 payment.
  • Making apprenticeships more flexible to reflect modern models of employment and ensuring apprenticeships work for employers in all sectors. Examples include new Flexi-Job Apprenticeship scheme and encouraging more front-loading of training.
  • Making it easier than ever for large employers to transfer unused levy funds to smaller businesses – allowing more employers to benefit from the skills and productivity apprentices can bring to their business.
  • We have also launched two new campaigns aimed at adults and employers to raise awareness and promote hundreds of government-funded skills opportunities available, including apprenticeships.
  • Adults looking to find out more about opportunities to learn new skills can visit Skills for Life, or contact the National Careers Service.
  • Businesses are urged to join the skills revolution and drive better performance.
  • We are holding discussions with providers to understand the bureaucracy involved in using the digital apprenticeship service and how we can improve the journey for apprenticeship service users, in particular for SMEs. Feedback from these sessions will inform future developments to the apprenticeship service.”

While the standards are developed by employers, is there an argument to review them more regularly and get all parties – employers, apprenticeship providers, end point assessors and government – around the table?

“The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) has sped up and improved the process for how apprenticeships are updated and reviewed, following the lead of thousands of employers who are the experts on most up to date skills needs.

“There is an important balance to strike between preserving continuity for delivery purposes and ensuring that apprenticeships evolve as employer needs evolve. Revisions to particular apprenticeships can be proposed by any stakeholder at any time via the revisions, adjustments and dispensations process.”

If we were to speak on this topic in a year’s time, what progress would you like to see?

“Things are already changing with more and more young people choosing to do apprenticeships rather than go to university. I would hope to see continued progress in that direction.

“I believe in the importance of universities and the power of university degrees. But I know they are not the be all and end all. I would not be at all surprised if, in 10 years’ time, many more people are choosing to become apprentices after leaving school or college.

“Apprenticeships have the potential to transform opportunity, giving young people a three-year head start in the workplace on their undergraduate friends.

“I’d like to see employers and providers working together to harness the power of apprenticeships to support people to get the skills they need to meet business needs and get on in life.”

Opening Up brandingMarketing Week’s Opening Up campaign is pushing for the democratisation of marketing careers. Follow our coverage of the challenges and opportunities over the coming weeks. Read the first article in the series here.