Young female apprentice at work.

Apprenticeships: a viable option for STEM students?

Apprenticeships provide many benefits to those entering the engineering and technology sector, but Women in Technology managing director Maggie Berry asks are we doing enough to promote them?

There’s no denying that the jobs market for graduates and school leavers is incredibly tough at the moment. And with figures released last month by UCAS showing an overall drop of 7.4 per cent in university applicants, the tide is certainly changing.

With university once a rite of passage for many school leavers, today many are foregoing this option and choosing to enter the working world. The argument for increasing the number of apprenticeships is, therefore, gaining pace - and rightly so.
But what are the benefits of doing one for those of you perhaps considering this route? And how can organisations, their employees, the Government and the STEM community as whole highlight apprenticeships?

Highlight apprenticeship schemes

If you’re already on your way to a career in the STEM industries, you have the knowledge and firsthand experience to be able to encourage the next generation to follow in your footsteps. Perhaps encourage your own employer to highlight and participate in apprentice schemes, or alternatively offer your words of wisdom to STEM pupils through online networking sites, or events you attend both in a professional and personal capacity.

But perhaps the most important step should be for current apprentices and organisations offering schemes to act as case studies to illustrate the options and successes that derive from embarking on one.

Benefits of an apprenticeship scheme

So what are these benefits? Maybe the most obvious is the reality that apprenticeships can provide participants with knowledge and skills, as well as experience of the working world without having to embark on a university course which could leave many saddled with debt and no real guarantee of employment on completion.

Apprenticeships of today often guarantee participants work, and the skills and experiences gained will put them ahead of the game and in a much more favourable position when they come to apply for future positions in the early stages of their career. The more case studies generated by individuals and businesses that celebrate the successes of schemes will ultimately be the driving force behind future demand.  

Where can you find out more about apprenticeships?

And for those of you considering the option of apprenticeships where can you start? Schemes are crying out for talented applicants to bridge the skills gap in the STEM world, and although it can be a daunting prospect, by researching yourself and finding organisations that can assist, you will be in a good starting position. Good places to begin include the Learning and Skills Council Apprenticeship, the Institute of Engineering and Technology, and direct employers who might be offering schemes for the year ahead.

How is the Government helping support apprenticeships?

With case studies of successful apprenticeship schemes being a favourable way to drive demand, what can the wider community do? The Government is already working with businesses on a new IT GSCE and A level curriculum to attack the problem at its root. After all, students need to be gripped by the subject at a younger age and want to pursue a career in this field once they leave education.  

Government intervention alone is not enough though, companies and their employees ought to be taking the lead - visiting schools and presenting to students on the different career paths that STEM subjects can lead pupils to. Not only will this open up minds, but it may also put to rest the myth that certain careers within the STEM world are geared towards males. With a particular lack of females in the technology and engineering sector, for example, initiatives like these can only serve to encourage young women who may be put off by the male dominated image so often portrayed.

Encouraging STEM take up

Highlighting and encouraging STEM take up in schools is the first objective the business and wider community ought to be doing, but there is also work to be done to promote apprenticeship take up once these pupils are ready and willing to embark on a career in this field. Positive signs are certainly emerging – the Government has recently pledged to closely monitor employers who offer schemes to ensure apprentices receive “job relevant” learning and training. And businesses which have perhaps previously offered work placements under the guise of an apprenticeship for small periods of time, and with no commitment to offer employment after the scheme finishes, should be a thing of the past.

In fact, in the past month Zenos – an IT provider – had its apprenticeship scheme halted by the Skills Funding Agency because those enrolled had no guarantee of employment once the scheme finishes. If the Government and associated bodies maintain this monitoring, the future of apprenticeships in all industries will certainly prosper.

National Apprenticeship Week

There’s no denying that there is more work to be done to highlight and encourage apprenticeship take up. However, with positive steps being taken by the Government and business world already, things are certainly moving in the right direction. It remains to be seen what 2012 brings, but with the arrival of National Apprenticeship Week, there looks set to be plenty in the news surrounding the issue. So for all those interested in participating in, or highlighting apprenticeships, keep your eyes peeled over the next few days.

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