It is widely recognised that technical and vocational education and training (TVET) and apprenticeships do not always have the same positive public image as university education. In many countries across Europe, this deficit of reputation is helping to widen the skills gap present in many sectors by contributing to a lack of skilled graduates to take on vital roles. UK charity the Edge Foundation aims to turn the tide by working to change perceptions, particularly amongst parents and students, of the value of TVET and apprenticeships. Here, the Edge Foundation talks about the most successful ways of promoting TVET as an effective route into employment.

The value of apprenticeships and TVET cannot be understated. In Britain, apprenticeships have a rich history, providing a way to secure a fruitful livelihood since the medieval craft guilds, and vocational education is at the heart of the achievements of many of our greatest inventors, engineers and scientists.

Yet, the fact remains that TVET and apprenticeships are still undervalued by parents and students as a viable route into employment, particularly when compared to an academic education gained through university. At the Edge Foundation, an independent education charity that conducts research and campaigns to influence education policy, we believe something needs to change if we are to train a new generation of professionals to fill our growing skills gap and meet the challenges of the digital revolution.

For the last five years, we’ve worked to transform public perceptions of apprenticeships as a way of supporting the UK government’s target to reach three million starts by 2020. And while we’ve seen a big change in the perceptions of apprenticeships, there is still a way to go. Here we present some of the key areas that have helped to promote apprenticeships as a flagship programme for raising awareness of wider TVET opportunities. 

While this approach is based on research conducted in England, which involved speaking to parents about what would change their minds about apprenticeships, the challenges facing TVET are a Europe-wide problem, and we believe that the initiatives we present here can be successfully replicated in other regions.

Raise public awareness 

A key area to come out of the research was a need to increase the visibility of the breadth of apprenticeships available – so not just in traditional trades, but in areas such as software development, law and financial services. 

One of the most effective vehicles for raising public awareness of apprenticeships in England is National Apprenticeship Week, which gives all stakeholders, including government, training providers and individual apprentices, the chance to share their experiences with the wider public. With different annual themes, the initiative encourages stakeholders to undertake a range of awareness raising activities, from national events and local open days, to social media posts and competitions — the more imaginative and unusual the forms of communication, the better. National Apprenticeship Week 2018 is already being planned and should be bigger than ever.

Another facet of work to raise public awareness about the value of apprenticeships has been to showcase examples of apprenticeships in well-known companies to help people make the association with top brands. One key activity was a national advertising campaign telling the stories of young people succeeding in their careers thanks to high-level apprenticeships. The campaign utilised television and poster advertising targeting parents and social media advertising targeting future apprentices.

Celebrate success

The research also highlighted the need to share and celebrate apprenticeship success stories to help parents and students appreciate the real opportunities apprenticeships can offer.

Establishing a system of awards for apprenticeships can be an excellent way to celebrate the successes of TVET, and 2018 marks the 15th year of the National Apprenticeship Awards in England. The event includes categories focusing on the achievements of both apprentices and employers, with the employer categories broken down by size of business to ensure fair representation. There are also local, regional and national competitions to ensure maximum publicity at all levels.

Build networks

Perhaps the strongest advocates of apprenticeships are apprentices and businesses themselves, so ambassadors should be an important strand of any communications strategy to promote apprenticeships. The Apprenticeship Ambassadors Network is a great forum for building employer networks and increasing communication between existing apprenticeship providers and future providers. This network continually helps to increase the numbers of apprentice opportunities available by getting new employers on board to commit to apprenticeship delivery. 

Former apprentices are also powerful advocates, helping young people to consider alternative routes to success. Our Career Footsteps programme supports schools to host careers events where volunteers who have pursued a technical or professional education route share their experiences about their roles and learning pathways. This programme is delivered as part of the Inspiring the Future initiative, established by charity Education and Employers.

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