Do we really understand the Apprenticeship Experience?


Recent Government figures show that almost half of all Apprentices (47 per cent) are now dropping out of their course. So what is the answer to retain these talented youngsters?


According to a recent EDSK report by FE News, for many Apprentices a poor experience ‘in company’ is the main factor for them leaving their Apprenticeship, with employers cited as treating Apprentices as workers rather than learners.


With an annual shortfall of over 186,000 young engineers every year, a shortage of skilled workers and an increase in the number of engineering firms looking to start or scale Apprenticeship schemes; it is vital that the engineering and manufacturing industry ‘gets Apprenticeships right’.


But as a sector how can we better understand what factors contribute to a great Apprentice experience? One where the Apprentices are not only retained but become evangelists to others in their age group to join them within the industry or in their company.


That is the question that Next Gen Makers recently put to a group of Engineering Apprentices during a round table discussion at the Make UK Technology Hub in Aston, Birmingham.


Apprentices involved represented companies including Veolia Water Technologies, Collins Aerospace, Severn Trent, Seco Tools and Ishida Europe.


As you can imagine, it was a passionate discussion, from a diverse group that are keen to see more young people follow in their footsteps as the next generation of engineers.


All Apprentices had the opportunity to rank what matters most to them from a choice of nine options, with regards to their experience as an Apprentice – with Next Gen Makers tallying up the responses for each to determine a ranked score.


‘Developing new skills’ was the most important element of their Apprenticeship, as voted for by the Apprentices. ‘Progression opportunities’ came second, followed by ‘Achievements being recognised’, which completed the top three.


‘Feeling valued’, ‘being able to visit other departments and learn other areas of the business’ and ‘getting on with co-workers’ were the fourth, fifth and sixth most important factors contributing to a great Apprentice experience.


Finally, the three least important factors contributing to making a great Apprentice experience were ‘having a Mentor’ in seventh, ‘feeling included’ in eighth and ‘pay’, which came last as far as these Apprentices were concerned.


That is not to say that these factors are unimportant, they were simply deemed less important a contributor to their satisfaction with their Apprenticeship than the other options.


From Next Gen Makers’ work running the Make UK backed Engineering Apprenticeships: Best Practice Programme, we know from speaking with hundreds of UK manufacturing firms that the ability to create a great Apprentice experience differs widely across UK industry.


It is a complex combination of multiple components, all of which add up to define the experience of an individual, as lived by them.


The Make UK Engineering Apprenticeships: Employer Kitemark accreditation, achieved via the Engineering Apprenticeships: Best Practice Programme, involves recognising exemplar employers of Engineering Apprentices – the kind of employers that go the extra mile in creating a great Apprentice experience and investing in the ongoing learning and development of their Apprentices.


The accreditation includes three components: benchmarking (self-reflection and continuous improvement with regards to the set up and operation of the company’s Apprenticeship scheme), an Apprentice satisfaction survey and a Training Provider survey, to gain the perspective of the Training Provider with regards to how the company runs its’ Apprenticeship Scheme. 80% of the Kitemark scoring is attributed to the Apprentice satisfaction survey.


The Apprentice satisfaction survey includes a robust question set of 20 questions which encompass the Apprentices’ experience to date, their wellbeing and their training and development.


Ultimately, for the employer this is providing a comprehensive and personalised layer of insight directly from their Apprentices regarding their experience within the business, which in turn helps the company to better evaluate and improve their Apprentice experience and their Apprenticeship Scheme.


We are seeing an increasing number of companies establishing Apprentice counsels, or providing new ways for their Apprentices to feed back ideas and giving them more time with senior figures within the business. The feedback from all of this, is Apprentices feeling more valued and recognised, something which is leading to greater retention of those individuals not only within the Apprenticeship scheme, but within the business over a longer period of time.

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