Monday 5 October 2015 9:00 am

Why we need a UCAS-style system for apprenticeships

With the new school year firmly underway, many young people will be thinking about what to do when they leave school or college. They might be weighing up whether they want to go to university, and if so what to study. Or they might be thinking about other options such as going straight into work, or into on-the-job-training such as an apprenticeship.

If they choose the former, things are straightforward. School-leavers have to fill out a single UCAS form to apply for several universities, and they do this within a set period of time, at a logical point in their final year of full-time education. And if their grades slip clearing offers a second chance.

But for the latter, it’s more complicated. Unlike higher education, there’s no single coherent approach to recruitment, no UCAS-style system for finding or applying to apprenticeships. We believe it’s time we set one up.

Read more: Better apprenticeships will transform UK productivity

The current process is uncoordinated and not linked to the education system, making it pretty unapproachable for the average 16-to-19-year-old. This is nonsensical at a time when employers in key sectors are struggling to fill their vacancies.

Businesses are not obligated to advertise all apprenticeships as vacancies, making it challenging for young people to find out about the options on offer. Those which are posted as vacancies aren’t made available in any set period, let alone one that relates to the school calendar. Equally, not all colleges make it a priority to help young people move directly from vocational courses to employer-based training.

A report out today by the Industry Skills Board and the City & Guilds group, Making Apprenticeships Work, of which we're both part, contains recommendations to help improve quality in the apprenticeship system at the same time as increasing numbers. Access is clearly a big part of this and we’ve set out a mechanism for a UCAS-style system for apprenticeships.

Read more: Apprenticeship levy faces new round of critics

Under our proposals young people would get the chance to see and apply for apprenticeship opportunities from July to October, at a time that works with the school calendar. We understand that not all businesses need new staff in a set time-frame but advertise vacancies throughout the year. To make the system work for employers and apprentices, we propose that the opportunities advertised between July and October are converted into vacancies throughout the year, at a time that suits individual employer’s recruitment needs.

We rightly hear from business and from the government that apprenticeships are a fantastic option for young people, vital to boosting productivity and ensuring we develop the skilled workforce we need. It’s particularly great to see this support from Number 10. But ultimately David Cameron’s good intentions will be meaningless if would be apprentices cannot access opportunities in the right time frame, or lack clarity about what is on offer.

We make it as simple as possible for young people to progress into higher education, but why put roadblocks in front of those who want to go on to the equally valid choice of an apprenticeship?