University isn’t for everyone: Degree Apprenticeships, School Leaver Programmes, and how to help your students write killer CVs. Our Founder and Director, Alex, gives his thoughts on how to help your students get to their next step.
I’ve worked in schools since 2005, and I think that supporting students to choose their best next step after school has never been harder.
In 2010 the introduction of £9,000 per year tuition fees turned undergraduates into consumers, querying degree courses’ value for money. Since the fee increase hundreds of degree programmes have been discontinued because they have failed to ‘sell’. And university admissions staff have become salespeople, offering the best potential students perks like laptops.
In recent years there has also been a steady stream of statements from employer associations (such as the CBI) saying that they find that – despite the debt they have incurred – many graduates arrive in their first jobs unready for work. Doubts about the usefulness of undergraduate study have seeped into students’ and parents’ minds.
"Doubts about the usefulness of undergraduate study have seeped into students’ and parents’ minds."
Further complicating matters, successive governments have tried to shift the UK’s education and training system away from its focus on university, and towards apprenticeships. Since 2005 there’s been extensive government tinkering with the apprenticeships system: new apprenticeship Frameworks which aim to standardize what it means to take an apprenticeship in any sector at any particular level, as well as new types of apprenticeship – for example Higher Apprenticeships and in the last few months Degree Apprenticeships. There have been expensive national marketing campaigns. And now there is even a tax – the new Apprenticeship Levy requires all employers with a pay bill over £3 million each year to make an investment in apprenticeships.
However many schools have been poorly placed to help their students weigh up all their options. In 2010 the government discontinued the national careers service Connexions, putting the responsibility for careers guidance directly onto schools. One problem with teachers taking the lead on careers guidance is that every teacher in the UK is a university graduate – and people tend to recommend what they know. In many schools with sixth forms responsibility for advising Year 11 students who are unlikely to progress into the school sixth form rests with a part time independent careers adviser with very limited budget or clout. Meanwhile the rest of the school’s advising resources – principally delivered by classroom teachers – are focused on helping the roughly 50% of students who will eventually progress into university.
"One problem with teachers taking the lead on careers guidance is that every teacher in the UK is a university graduate – and people tend to recommend what they know."
Unifrog started in March 2013 with a university choosing tool. A year later we decided to build a similar tool for finding and applying for apprenticeships. I remember some teacher friends telling me this was a strange idea – which schools would be interested in it? However we have noticed a steady shift in attitude. Part of the reason for this is that the government’s core instruction on careers guidance states that schools should provide guidance on students’ ‘full range of options’. In addition more recently the government has made Key Stage 5 destinations data a headline measure for judging each school’s effectiveness (meaning destinations data features in the report card on each UK state school on the Department of Education’s website) – and the destinations data includes the percentage of students progressing to non-university routes.
One of the biggest challenges when it comes to advising students about non-university options is that there isn’t a ‘UCAS’ for these opportunities. Most apprenticeships are on the .Gov website – but this is hard to use, and it’s not comprehensive – it doesn’t include prestigious School Leaver Programmes such as KPMG’s or PwC’s programmes aimed at school leavers with outstanding academic ability. So our first task was to build a comprehensive database – and we did this by taking a live feed of the government database, and then building relationships with the UK’s major recruiters – in effect we have become a UCAS for non-university routes.
"Our approach is that every student – even those considering applying for Medicine at Cambridge – should also search for apprenticeships, record their competencies, and write a CV."
A further challenge is that it’s hard for teachers to support students to be successful in applying for apprenticeships when they have their hands full dealing with university applications. So in Unifrog we have built two additional tools – something we call the Competencies Store – which allows students to record when they’ve demonstrated skills that employers value such as initiative and independence – and a very intuitive CV building tool.
Our approach is that every student – even those considering applying for Medicine at Cambridge – should also search for apprenticeships, record their competencies, and write a CV. This is firstly because they might surprise themselves in finding an even better opportunity, and also because going through these steps is useful even for their academic career. The skills prized by employers are also ones that students should shout about on their Personal Statements. And the premise of our CV tool is that – just like a good Personal Statement – it should be aimed squarely at the particular opportunity that it is being used to apply for. We’ve worked hard to make it easy for students to tweak their CV each time they apply for a new opportunity.
"...more than 90% of our partner schools have subscribed to both our university and apprenticeship tools."
I’m delighted that despite out initial doubts, more than 90% of our partner schools have subscribed to both our university and apprenticeship tools. I think that advising students is tougher than ever, but the myriad of opportunities is of course also exciting.