BESA calls for action on apprentice funding and careers advice

BESA, apprentice, careers
Steph McGovern and Tim Hopkinson

The government must move quickly to clear up the confusion surrounding funding for apprentice training, according to the President of the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA).

Tim Hopkinson used the occasion of the recent BESA President’s Lunch in the City of London to urge the government to release funding to training providers who can change the way courses are delivered and boost the number of young people coming into engineering professions.

He said the current process was “difficult and confusing” and needed to be improved urgently by ensuring new providers, in particular, were given access to funds already earmarked for helping employers recruit and train apprentices.

Hopkinson said young engineers had the “skills, tools and character to improve productivity” – an issue that the Chancellor Phillip Hammond has made a top priority for this Parliament – but constant delays to the funding that was promised to new training providers were undermining employers’ efforts to increase the “stream of talent coming into technical professions”.

“New training providers, those without existing contracts, are the ones we need to change delivery and make the new system work for employers and apprentices alike,” he said, adding that poor careers advice in schools and proposed changes to vocational qualifications were also threatening to undermine the system.


BBC business correspondent Steph McGovern was the guest speaker at the BESA lunch and echoed Hopkinson’s call for greater focus on apprenticeships. She said schools were not doing enough to highlight the opportunities available through work-based learning and urged them to provide better information about fulfilling careers in engineering and how much engineers contribute to society.

She said careers advisers were not incentivised to promote apprenticeships, but instead continued to push the ‘conventional’ sixth form and university route.

Hopkinson pointed out that, despite sustained bad publicity about course fees and soaring student debt, the vast majority of young people entering further education were still choosing university over work-based training.

A YouGov survey showed that just 8% of students aged 15 to 18 in school or college last year were advised to seek a work-based apprenticeship while 85% were encouraged to go into further or higher education, such as university study.

Just 3% were advised to seek a job, according to the survey of more than 1,000 students, which was commissioned by the Electrical Contractors’ Association (ECA), the industry training organisation JTL, and the Joint Industry Board.

28% of school leavers told YouGov researchers they had never even had a conversation about work-based apprenticeships with anyone at their school or college.

Yet there is a rising tide of interest in apprenticeships and vocational qualifications generally, according to Hopkinson, who pointed out that the number of students at top independent schools taking Btecs instead of A levels had doubled in the past four years.

Also, 77% of those opting for a conventional university education said they would change their mind if offered the right incentives, according to a study by the student research organisation Trendence UK. 55% of the 12,800 students it surveyed said the information given to them about vocational training options while still at school amounted to ‘not much’ or ‘none at all’.

One proposal, put forward by apprentices themselves, is that no school should be awarded an ‘outstanding’ rating by OFSTED unless it delivered quality careers advice on apprenticeships and that this advice should be made a statutory requirement.

“It is clear that apprenticeships would be much more popular if students were given better information about their options and at an early stage in their studies,” said Hopkinson. “The incentive for taking an Apprenticeship is the opportunity to work towards a useful trade with good career prospects – while also avoiding racking up debts of well over £40,000. Also, the flexibility now exists in the system to take a degree as part of your apprenticeship if you wish.

“This is absolutely crucial for the country as a whole because we need to recruit two million new engineers and technical staff by 2025, according to the government’s own figures,” he added.


A recent report by the Industry Apprentice Council (IAC) showed that 98% of engineering apprentices were happy in their jobs – citing good pay and no debt, fulfilling work, qualifications and career progression.

However, the IAC believes that the Department of Education risks undermining “possibly the best career route in the world” by changing the way vocational qualifications are delivered. Under its proposals, only those studying the new T Levels would receive a recognised qualification and many apprentices would not.

Hopkinson warned that this could put more people off apprenticeships and create a two-tier system.

“Teachers, careers advisers and parents need to understand that a vocational apprenticeship is not, in any way, an inferior route, but is the most appropriate way for many young people to work towards a happy, fulfilling and successful future.”

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