Growing the culture of apprenticeships in schools 

By Richard Kirk, CEO, Workplus 

I’ve just finished a meeting with a Vice Principal and Head of Careers at a large post-primary grammar school in County Antrim. It was a useful meeting – and two things struck me. Firstly, the dedication of school leaders and their desire to see their pupils succeed, and, secondly, the enormous demands faced by them. (On reflection, maybe that’s three things!)

Growing our knowledge for the benefit of pupils…and taking careers advice one step further
As school leavers seek to understand the variety of choice available to them, it’s asking a lot to expect busy staff to know the depth and breadth of what’s out there in the fast-moving world of apprenticeships. 

And yet, it’s hugely important that school leavers (and their parents) are well informed about the choices available to them. 

It’s not simply about sound careers advice - which is vital - but it is taking careers advice one step further and showing the live opportunities on offer. 

Apprenticeships are so much more varied now and relevant for all levels of academic ability. The benefits are clear: a job from the start, a good starting salary, continued education, dedicated mentoring, and no student debt. What’s the catch? There is none! 

Challenge the ‘poor cousin’ perception 
Yet we still have some way to go to ensure that apprenticeships are better understood and so sometimes, they are still regarded as a ‘poor cousin’ to full-time higher education. 

If you’d allow me to challenge that briefly by sharing the experiences of both apprentices and employers. 

I recently spoke with Oscar, a young software engineer apprentice in Belfast. He is a high academic achiever, left grammar school with strong A level grades and is now in his first year of a degree level apprenticeship.  While full-time university seemed the most obvious route, he opted for an apprenticeship and is thriving – both in work as well as in his academic studies. In a few years’ time, he’ll emerge with a degree, no debt and experience in Instil, one of Northern Ireland’s leading software firms. 

I can share many similar stories of young people relishing their apprenticeship experience across various sectors and in many companies across Northern Ireland. 

Equally, employers are waking up to the benefits of this blended approach of earning and learning. How hands-on, real-time learning coupled with continuing academic studies is shaping great employees who bring enthusiasm, a learning mindset along with a growing and relevant skills set. 

Emerging from the pandemic - helping pupils realise their ambitions 
Last year, a survey of 2,000 young people made a sobering read. According to the research, carried out by Censuswide, 41% of young people believe their future goals now seem "impossible to achieve", with this rising to 50% of those surveyed from poorer backgrounds. Furthermore, more than one in three young people say they have lost hope of getting their dream job because of coronavirus, the Prince's Trust said. The charity also said the survey of people aged 16 to 25 across the UK showed 44% had lower aspirations for the future as a result of the pandemic.

One of the great aspects of apprenticeships is how they address the barriers to young people’s hopes for a future career. They have a job from the start with clear career progression, they stay in education, they’re plugged into a team, and they don’t have the dread and pressure that student debt brings. 

Busy staff need easy solutions! 
At Workplus, we want to be a trusted partner and help schools actively promote the benefits of apprenticeships. We are working with almost 50 companies across the sectors in Northern Ireland as well as building our online content with schools and young people in mind. 

Workplus is pleased to sponsor the ASCL conference taking place in Belfast later this month. Our sponsorship reflects our commitment to supporting schools help their careers teachers and pupils grow in their knowledge and awareness of apprenticeships, and the fantastic choices and pathways available for all levels of academic ability.  

Richard Kirk is CEO of Workplus, event sponsor for the ASCL Northern Ireland Annual Conference 2021, in Belfast on 26 November.  Richard is also a keynote speaker at the event. 

Workplus connects employers and aspiring apprentices. Get in touch by visiting  
Posted: 18/11/2021 15:08:57