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Opinion16th January 2018

Tackling the barriers to competitive apprenticeships

We all know university isn’t for everyone. At Ark we want to give our students the best opportunities available to help them get into the career of their choice. For some, apprenticeships are an ideal route, however competition is high. 40% of new apprenticeships have been snapped up by adults. And young males from affluent backgrounds are now twice as likely to achieve a place with the most competitive apprenticeships than boys from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Ark recently hosted a roundtable event about the barriers to students from disadvantaged backgrounds accessing apprenticeships. Bringing together school staff with employers including Capgemini, the Civil Service, Google, GroupM, Sky, Transport for London and WhiteHat, they discussed issues surrounding the complicated application process for apprenticeships, as well as the stigma faced by some students for choosing a non-university based path for their further education.

There was also discussion on how to support students to tackle any barriers that might be preventing them from progressing on to the best higher and degree apprenticeships.

Here is a glimpse of some of the ideas and thoughts that were shared.

Matt Jones

Teachers and school staff said:

“Assessment centres can be really daunting for students. Employers could help students to prepare by running mock assessment centres, or training teachers to do so in schools.”

“The application process for apprenticeships is harder because we don’t have an admissions service like UCAS, with everything you need in one central place. Applications open and close at different times and requirements vary greatly. We should be working towards a more locked down process, like the UCAS one.”

“Teachers and schools often don’t know what progression looks like within an apprenticeship. More transparency from employers is needed on this, so that teachers are well-informed and can pass this knowledge on to their students.”

“We need to build the profile of apprenticeships in schools from an early age. Case studies of former students who have successfully completed apprenticeships are always a good way to educate students.”

Employers said:


“Some employers actively try not to look at grades when reviewing apprenticeships –employability skills and the desire to learn are what is most important. Teachers need to be better equipped to advise on apprenticeship applications specifically, because they differ from university applications in many ways.”

“We need to teach students how to sell themselves and articulate their achievements – without getting embarrassed.”

“Many employers want a chance to meet influencers, especially parents. They tend to avoid careers fairs unless they can have meaningful interactions with students and their parents/guardians. Schools should look to engineer these opportunities where possible.”

The event provided an opportunity for collaboration and knowledge-sharing, as well as giving food for thought for both employers and educators.

The Pathways and Enrichment team at Ark hopes to take some of the ideas discussed forward, by continuing to work closely with employers offering apprenticeships.

If you’re an employer and you are interested in working with Ark, we’d love to hear from you. Please contact the team on