07Challenge 5: Employers have low awareness of apprenticeships and whether they are right for their business
Employers are crucial to unlocking new apprenticeships. With demand far outstripping supply across the country – between November 2015 and January 2016, there were 42,270 apprenticeship vacancies, but 359,000 applications – there is a strong case for encouraging more employers to take on apprentices.58 But many employers have not been convinced of the benefits of apprenticeships, and frequently lack access to the information and practical support which can change often outdated and negative perceptions.
Case study 10: London Apprenticeship Campaign: raising awareness through advertising and marketing
Apprenticeships have been promoted by the current London Mayor as a crucial way of tackling the skills gaps which are constraining London’s productivity, particularly in non-traditional sectors such as finance. The awareness of apprenticeships among employers was identified as being one of the key challenges to the creation of new apprenticeships in London, and the London Apprenticeship Campaign was launched in 2010 in order to address this issue.Apprenticeships have been promoted by the current London Mayor as a crucial way of tackling the skills gaps which are constraining London’s productivity, particularly in non-traditional sectors such as finance. The awareness of apprenticeships among employers was identified as being one of the key challenges to the creation of new apprenticeships in London, and the London Apprenticeship Campaign was launched in 2010 in order to address this issue.
The Campaign has a range of initiatives, including the provision of impartial careers information, advice and guidance in schools and careers and jobs fairs to increase apprenticeship provision in London. In particular, it targets large employers without a history of offering apprenticeships, and SMEs. Two of the key campaigns that the scheme has used are:
- The Mayoral Employer Letter and Engagement Campaign. Letters signed by the Mayor of London are sent out to the CEOs of large employers, with a focus on financial and professional services, to share some of the potential benefits of recruiting apprentices and to direct them to sources of information and support.
- The University of Work: a joint marketing campaign between the Greater London LEP and the Skills Funding Agency, which commissioned advertising agency Saatchi and Saatchi to work with SMEs on what they know about apprenticeships and helping to refer people to the SFA.
The Campaign has been successful in increasing apprenticeship starts across London: between 2009-10 and 2010-11, the number of apprenticeships in London doubled, and its early successes led to the creation of new targets for apprenticeships in London.59 But there are still challenges: since 2010/11 apprenticeship numbers have not increased substantially, and analysis from the OECD has raised questions about their quality.60 And while the scheme has been successful in boosting demand among employers, awareness and perception among parents and teachers remains a challenge; for example, despite securing additional incentives for apprentices in London, such as reduced Underground fares for apprentices, takeup remains low.
The London Apprenticeship Campaign demonstrates how campaigning and marketing can have a positive effect on apprenticeship starts, but that at a scale such as that of London, and where there is little history of apprenticeships, changing perceptions is a complex challenge.
Case study 11: Plymouth Apprenticeship Managers Network: sharing information through word of mouth
The Plymouth Apprenticeship Managers Network is part of the 1000 Club, a network of local businesses that aims to support people into careers in the city. The 1000 Club was created in September 2012 in response to feedback from businesses that young people were not work ready and that local businesses were struggling to understand the apprenticeship system. The 1000 Club is driven and managed by a partnership of key stakeholders from across Plymouth and its wider area. Anyone can sign up to become a member and access information available through their website, which also allows them to publicise their business, advertise vacancies and access advice and guidance. It currently has 1,559 members.
The Managers Network is a group of employers from across the city which runs apprenticeship schemes and meets regularly in order to share knowledge and information across different sectors, sharing advice on leadership, recruitment and legal obligations.
To encourage new businesses to take on apprentices, the Network organises dinners to which current members invite businesses that do not currently offer apprenticeships. This personal approach means that the apprenticeship system and its benefits can be explained by businesses already involved in the scheme. The personal approach also provides a mutually supportive environment for businesses new to the apprenticeship system.61
Members of the 1000 club have offered 1,244 new apprenticeships in Plymouth since the scheme started, which account for around 21 percent of all apprenticeships created in the city over that period.62
These examples demonstrate that changing perceptions among employers about the relevance of apprenticeships to their business is challenging and requires considerable resource. Marketing campaigns can help make the case for apprenticeships, and while it is much harder in a city as large as London, the success of the Plymouth case study suggests that there could be a real benefit in a business-to-business approach to changing perceptions that is based on personal networks and direct engagement.