Education + Training

ISSN: 0040-0912

Article publication date: 30 May 2008



(2008), "UK", Education + Training, Vol. 50 No. 4.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited


Article Type: Research news From: Education + Training, Volume 50, Issue 4.

Apprenticeships and business performance

In an independent survey of organisations that employ apprentices, conducted on behalf of the Learning and Skills Council (LSC), over three-quarters of respondents felt their apprenticeship programme made them more competitive, while the same number believed apprenticeships led to higher productivity:

  • 77 per cent of employers believe apprenticeships make them more competitive;

  • 76 per cent say apprenticeships provide higher overall productivity; and

  • 80 per cent feel that apprenticeships reduce staff turnover.

Moreover, the survey shows that without apprenticeships the outlook for the country’s business looks bleak; 83 per cent of employers rely on their apprenticeship programme to provide the skilled workers they need for the future. Of the respondents, two-thirds claim that they would struggle to find trained staff with the skills they need without their apprenticeship programmes, highlighting the impact apprenticeships are having on addressing skills shortages.

The findings also demonstrate the impact of apprenticeships on recruitment and retention, with 80 per cent believing that the programme improves staff retention and turnover. Of the respondents, two-thirds believe their apprenticeship programme helps them fill vacancies more quickly, while 88 per cent believe apprenticeships lead to a more motivated and satisfied workforce.

Other findings included:

  • 59 per cent report that training apprentices is more cost effective than hiring skilled staff, with 59 per cent believing apprenticeships lead to lower overall training costs and 53 per cent feeling they reduce recruitment costs;

  • in terms of the return on investment linked to apprenticeships, 41 per cent say their apprentices make a valuable contribution to the business during their training period, while a further third (33 per cent) report apprentices add value within their first few weeks or even from day one;

  • 57 per cent report a high proportion of their apprentices going on to management positions within the company; and

  • over three-quarters of respondents expect apprenticeships to play a bigger part in their recruitment policy in the future.

The research conducted by Populus on behalf of the LSC, of 204 respondents based in England who were responsible for apprenticeship recruitment in their companies. Telephone interviews were conducted between 7 January and 6 February 2008.

Learning from the edge

Research undertaken by the Young Adults Research Partnership (YALP) into hard to reach young people stresses the importance of incentives, including financial ones. One of the most prominent policies intended to provide incentives for young adults who would not otherwise take part in learning has been Education Maintenance Allowances. The testimony from interviews and focus groups with learners suggest that financial rewards can sometimes be highly effective in sustaining involvement in learning activities. Young adults respond well to hooks in order to attract them initially to provision, and subsequently retain them. “Keeping them on board” is an ongoing challenge. However, balancing these hooks and related rewards with the process of learning is a constant struggle.

YALP research revealed concerns about the drive for certification and accreditation when working with young adults, especially those with learning difficulties. These learners respond (eventually) to praise and encouragement, but this does not necessarily have to take the form of a certificate or qualification. Any certificate offered must hold a perceived value in helping the learner move on, and have currency in the eyes of potential employers. It must also enhance the self-esteem of the learner. It is critical for practitioners to know their learners in order to judge the value of such rewards.

The YALP research reveals that or many practitioners there is a real tension between the achievement of “hard” outcomes and using more anecdotal evidence of personal development. Their main aim is to engage with young adults and motivate them to attend provision over the long term, but they acknowledge that much of their funding is dependent on targets being achieved for example, numbers of accredited outcomes. This creates both a pressurised environment, where “numbers achieving” become paramount, and tensions for those practitioners who are not always able to focus on aspects of learning they feel are most important. It may be more appropriate given the young person’s starting-point and circumstances to aim for “softer” or more intermediate outcomes, that are more suited to the roller-coaster life experience of disadvantaged young people leading troubled lives. Sometimes, it seems the controlling tendencies of policy-makers unwittingly key in failure. It makes little sense to expect young people to have long- or even medium-term action plans when they do not know when or where the next meal or a bed for the night is coming from. Policy and practice, to be effective, must take account of the here and now view of the world so commonly adopted by these young adults.

Learning from the Edge; Bryan Merton and the Young Adult Learning Partnership are available at:

Recruiters predict highest increase in graduate vacancies in ten years

The bi-annual survey into the status of graduate recruitment, released by the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR), reveals that vacancies are on the increase for the fifth year running, in spite of uncertainties regarding the UK’s current economic situation:

  • vacancies for graduates predicted to increase by 16.4 per cent, despite current economic fears;

  • salaries expected to increase modestly at a median level of 2.1 per cent;

  • employers anticipate difficulties in filling all their vacancies; and

  • in 2007 a median of 26.7 per cent of graduates recruited came from minority ethnic backrounds, up from 15.1 per cent in 2006.

However, despite such encouraging statistics, recruiters still envisage they will face difficulties in filling all vacancies, with 67 per cent anticipating challenges. There are a number of reasons for this; an equal proportion (55.9 per cent) quote “Graduates perceptions of the business sector” and “Not enough candidates with the right skills”. A total of 52.4 per cent also suggest that there are “Challenges in certain geographical areas” while 43.4 per cent refer to “Not enough applicants with the right qualifications”. Shortfall has been an issue for a number of years but this is the first time that “Graduate perceptions” has topped the list of reasons.

There is encouraging news regarding the ethnicity of graduates, with a median of 26.7 per cent of graduates recruited in 2007 coming from minority ethnic backrounds. The highest ethnic group was Indian (19.3 per cent), followed by Chinese (18.2 per cent) and Black African (13.7 per cent, up from 7.7 per cent in 2006). The proportion of females recruited in 2007 fell by 3.5 per cent to 39.1 per cent. That this is well below the proportion of females graduating can be partly explained by the type of careers covered in the survey and more importantly those not covered i.e. medical and teaching careers. This does not, however, account for the 3.5 per cent fall last year and further research would have to be undertaken to establish the causes.

In 2007 graduate starting salaries in graduate level jobs rose by 2.4 per cent. This year it is anticipated that there will be another modest rise of 2.1 per cent. The median starting salary in 2008 in a graduate level job is expected to be £24,000. There is still a wide spread of starting salaries with 14.1 per cent paying salaries of over £35,000 and 7.6 per cent paying starting salaries of less than £20,000. Investment banks and law firms are now running neck and neck as the most generous paymasters whilst the public sector has fallen to the bottom of our league table along with transport or logistics and retail. Of employers, 33 per cent pay graduates lump-sum payments at the start of their career (down from 35.4 per cent in 2006) and in 2008 this is predicted to be a median of £2,000.

The Association of Graduate Recruiters Winter Review 2008 is available at:

Graduate expectations of their employers

Research from Nuffield Proactive Health explores graduate activities in respect of health and wellbeing and the degree to which their views could influence their choice of employer Results included:

  • 39 per cent of respondents considered their health would deteriorate once they started full-time employment;

  • 11 per cent of students and recent gradates believed the impact on health and fitness is a major concern when embarking on full-time employment;

  • The greatest concern was work/life balance with over 40 per cent concerned they would have insufficient time with family and friends;

  • 45 per cent felt employers should take employee health more seriously; and

  • two in three graduates would be willing to contribute towards the cost of on-site health and fitness facilities.

The report concludes that graduates are increasingly expecting their employers to take employee health and wellness more seriously. Those organisations who clearly demonstrate a concern for health and wellbeing of their staff are significantly more likely to be successful in attracting and retaining higher calibre recruits.

The research was commissioned with YouGov an independent research agency and involved a sample of 763 UK graduates and students.

New LSN research by Frank Coffield

The Learning and Skills Network has asked Frank Coffield to deliver a personal exploration on “what might happen if teaching and learning became the number one priority in the sector”. This “first draft” combines the intellectual rigour of the most up-to-date research with a passion for teaching and learning. Coffield argues the following in Chapter 1:

Just for once let us take the rhetoric seriously and imagine a Learning and Skills Sector (LSS), where teaching and learning have become the number one priority. We are all familiar with current practice: ritual genuflection is made to the central importance of learning, but the sermon swiftly becomes a litany of what are considered to be the really key elements of transformation priorities, targets, inspection grades and funding and the topics of Teaching and Learning disappear from sight. If they are mentioned further, Teaching and Learning are treated as unproblematic, technical matters that require little discussion. The unspoken assumption is that we can all recognise and disseminate “best practice” without any difficulty. For once, let us reverse this process and take the following proposition seriously, namely that the way to creating a world-class LSS is to improve the quality of teaching and learning taking place within it. This pamphlet will explore this proposition, and will tease out the most likely consequences of making Teaching and Learning the first priority of the post-compulsory sector.

The draft document embraces a number of reflective questions upon which readers are asked to feedback. The full document is available at:

Comments and responses to the reflective questions preferably of a constructive kind, to Frank Coffield via e-mail: If he receives a lot of comments, he may not be able to engage in dialogue with all those who send them, but rest assured that your arguments will be seriously considered before the final version of this pamphlet is produced.

Related articles