Meet & Engage

If you don’t hire apprentices, what does that mean for your social mobility agenda?

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The value of recruiting apprentices and embedding them into your business

For so many years, apprenticeships have struggled to throw off their ‘less than’ image, but it’s beginning to feel as though that misconception is firmly on the move.

The impact of the Baker Clause on careers education between school years 8 and 13 should start to be visible in outcomes over the next couple of years, as that layer of influence does its work in schools and colleges across the UK – and already we are seeing hungry young talent making the apprenticeship route their top choice rather than the stereotypical Plan B. UCAS is also doing lots in this space and developing its offering as a place of discovery and advice about options, covering both the Higher Education and the apprenticeship routes.

It’s hard to turn this juggernaut quickly though, when many of those in decision making and influencing roles still hold firm opinions about the hierarchy of graduate versus apprentice. For the young people themselves, many of whom will have been strongly influenced by teachers, parents/guardians and careers advisers still holding to the traditional view that university is best, it’s also unsurprising if, as graduates, they feel as though they’ve taken a higher path than their apprentice colleagues. And so it perpetuates.

For so many years, apprenticeships have struggled to throw off their ‘less than’ image, but it’s beginning to feel as though that misconception is firmly on the move.

I recently had the pleasure of attending the Institute of Student Employers Delivering Apprenticeships 2023 day conference and, pleasingly predictably, there were loads of excellent speakers and lots of food for thought! We heard from employers, providers and apprentices themselves – which for me personally was the most inspirational aspect of the day. As Stephen Isherwood tweeted mid-conference, “If you don’t hire apprentices, you can’t hire an Amy” – one of the impressive young people who shared their story with us on the day.

Many employers are already offering brilliant and well-established apprenticeship schemes and being Levy-savvy with it: drawing the maximum benefit right across the business – impacting not just their Early Careers hiring, but using the higher level apprenticeships as a mechanism to invest in the CPD of experienced employees too, which in turn will have a measurable positive impact on employee satisfaction and retention data down the line, if not already.

It was fascinating to hear from Irwin Mitchell, TUI, Heathrow Airport, BPP, Hewlett Packard Enterprises, Jaguar Land Rover and Ofcom among others, who have each taken different approaches to the task of embedding apprenticeships into their culture, and are making significant headway – both in their business-as-usual hiring and also in hiring with an eye firmly focused on their social mobility objectives.  

So what were my top three takeaways from the day?



1. Apprenticeships work best when they are consciously embedded in business culture


Leadership level buy-in is fundamental to getting a successful apprenticeship offering underway. Once the leaders in the business believe in this as a route to hiring high-quality employees who are hungry for progression and happy to work hard, the willingness to invest in the set-up will trickle down. It was evident that where apprenticeship schemes were embedded most successfully, a huge part of that was in having the leeway to get the set-up right, across the business.

Leadership level buy-in is fundamental to getting a successful apprenticeship offering underway.

Part of this is about understanding that there is a pastoral element to hiring young school leavers and so hiring managers need to be equipped and given the time they need to carry out this aspect of the role. Another part is in normalising apprenticeships: as an alternative approach to re-advertising vacancies for example, for helping returners re-establish their confidence, or for exploring options for professional development – so that the usefulness of apprenticeships becomes part of the DNA of the business. Many of your employees will also be parents, so educating them about apprenticeships will also help to turn that juggernaut over time. 

These ideas are a starter for ten:

  • running myth-busting sessions to aid understanding of the immense opportunity apprenticeships bring
  • hosting sessions/using platforms to equip hiring- and line-managers in the training and mentoring skills needed to support younger apprentices
  • creating online and offline communities, both professional and social, so apprentices are properly supported and integrated as they move over the threshold and into the business
  • Placing apprentices in mixed teams from the outset, so that barriers or misconceptions about their value can be quickly chipped away

2. If social mobility is on your agenda, you should invest in your apprenticeship programme


There’s no escaping the cost of the degree route in the UK. The combined weight of accommodation and living costs, not to mention tuition fees, is a challenge for most people to afford, but for pupils living in poverty and from tough socio-economic backgrounds it can seem way out of reach.

Apprenticeships are the obvious alternatives for many, providing a debt free option which is hard to argue against as a route into an increasing number of job roles. Many employers are working hard to bring their commitment to EDI to life – and social mobility is a huge part of that, so it makes sense from a range of viewpoints to use apprenticeships as part of your EDI strategy. But investing in an apprenticeship programme for social mobility should also involve thinking carefully about how to deliver it for success – which starts with how you are going to engage, support and assess your candidates.

Apprenticeships are the obvious alternatives for many, providing a debt free option which is hard to argue against as a route into an increasing number of job roles.

It’s really important not to adopt the one-size-fits-all approach to Early Careers hiring processes, even if you get your grads and apprentices onto the same onboarding experience once they’re with you. Apprentices are, on the whole, school leavers. They are typically less likely to have social capital in the form of parents who can advise them about jobs and application stages and will very likely have less lived-experience to bring to your process than your grads do. Working with experts such as Visionpath to identify the schools you want to reach out to, and to create selection processes that deliberately invest in a young person’s development as they move through your recruitment stages, makes your process fairer and more accessible, is better for candidate experience and is surely the right thing to do for social mobility. (As a sub-note here, please consider speedily reimbursing travel expenses for face-to-face elements of the hiring process for apprentices if you don’t already do this: it could make all the difference.)


3. Your would-be apprentices are curious, demanding and impatient

Figuring out what to do after school is stressful – my own young adults range in age from 17 to 23 so I’m speaking from current experience! Making assumptions that candidates will easily find your apprenticeship opportunities and instinctively know whether they are right for them could be costly. Most young people want to explore 24/7, they expect a degree of personalisation in the information you present and the format it’s delivered in, and they definitely don’t want to wait very long for your responses. So to attract the best, employers will need to cater to this audience’s needs and expectations.

The apprentices spoke so eloquently about the hiring processes they’d experienced and mentioned a number of helpful things to consider when planning apprenticeship recruitment.

 To finish, here my are key three:

  • Think about when you are opening for applications – Can your process be shifted back to finish well before exams? Trying to prepare for an apprenticeship interview alongside revising for exams is a terrible combination and a negative candidate experience.
  • Find a mechanism for keeping your apprentices engaged so they know what to expect, have lots to explore and have a chance to e-meet those already in the business – they want to feel a connection with your brand early on.
  • Offer timely and personalised support as they move through your process – even if they leave the process without an offer – nurturing them and focusing on their development will bring out the best in them and reflect best on you.

The suite of solutions at Meet & Engage are designed to help our clients inspire, engage and nurture their candidates and employees at key stages in hiring and employee-engagement journeys – and to offer the level of personalisation that candidates seek.

You could be using Campus Engager when you’re out and about at schools events or careers fairs – potential apprentices scan a QR code and drop into a social-style, automated engagement journey full of predefined content to bring your business and opportunities to life.

Follow this up with Inspire events – live virtual events where you give your target audience a chance to get answers to their questions in real time, to build knowledge and confidence about your business and meet your employee ambassadors virtually.

During the application process, we recommend Recruitment Process Nurture – utilising our social-style automation to hand-hold through the selection stages, so that candidates know exactly what you’re looking for and how to feel prepared.

Post-offer, Timeline, our automated onboarding experience, keeps candidates warm and ready for their first day with you.

Underpinning all our solutions there’s 1-2-1 Live Chat and Chatbot technology – so that your candidates can find answers to their questions, 24/7.

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