The research suggests that apprenticeships are likely to have a high positive impact on youth employment outcomes. However, this finding is based on a very small number of robust comparison-group evaluations of apprenticeships as a targeted intervention to support youth employment.
What is it?
An apprenticeship provides vocational training through:
- Paid work and on-the-job training with an employer, occupying most of the apprentice’s time.
- Off-the-job training supplied by an accredited learning provider such as a college, university, or independent training provider.
Apprenticeships focus on the development of skills required for a specific occupation. They last for twelve months or more, and lead to a recognised qualification.
The definition of ‘apprenticeship’ used in the Youth Employment Toolkit applies to programmes that are broadly similar to current provision in the UK.
In the Toolkit, we separate apprenticeships from ‘on-the-job training’ because:
- Apprenticeships typically last for a year or more while other on-the-job training programmes are shorter.
- Apprenticeships include a substantial element of off-the-job training alongside on-the-job training and work experience. All or most of a young person’s time in an on-the-job training programme is spent in the workplace.
The above definition was applied to identify studies of apprenticeships in the meta-analysis for the Youth Employment Toolkit. The research for the Youth Employment Toolkit only considers apprenticeship programmes that are used as a targeted intervention to boost Youth Employment Toolkit rates. It does not include apprenticeship programmes that form part of a wider system of education and vocational training such as the German ‘dual system’.
In England, apprenticeships are offered at levels from 2 to 7. Level 2 is equivalent to five GCSE passes, and Level 7 is equivalent to postgraduate study. People of all ages can become apprentices, but in the Youth Employment Toolkit only data on young apprentices is included. In addition, the bulk of this section relates to apprenticeships at the lower levels.
In England, apprenticeships are funded by the ‘Apprenticeship Levy’, which is collected from large employers. They are overseen by the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education, and delivered through partnerships between employers and education providers.
Young people may enter apprenticeships for different reasons; they may want an entry-level role in a particular job or sector, an opportunity to upskill in an existing job, or a study pathway when they have left compulsory education. Apprenticeships are designed to give learners the skills and training they need for their chosen industry, and demonstrate their learning with a recognised qualification.
Apprenticeship wages and funding systems vary between national and international contexts, as well as by sector, level and geographical location.
The cost rating for apprenticeships is high.
- Number of inputs: multiple, including recruitment activities, scheduling and organisation, staffing by trainers and others, specialist curricula and assessment, learner support, programme planning and management, and partnership formation and management.
- Duration of inputs: long-term, usually for a year or more.
- Sources of inputs: multiple.
- Expertise: substantial and varied, including tutoring and curriculum design, and analysis of local labour market intelligence.
- Settings: specialised.
- Intervention-only inputs: multiple, including apprenticeship wages and recruitment and assessment procedures.
The research suggests that apprenticeships could have a high positive impact on youth employment outcomes. This finding is based on a small number of studies of apprenticeships as a targeted youth employment intervention.
The research suggests that, on average, for every 10 young people who can take part in an apprenticeship as a targeted youth employment intervention, one will get a job who wouldn’t have done so without the intervention.
However, the strength of the evidence for this finding is low, because only a very small number of studies were suitable for inclusion in the analysis.
About the evidence
You can find details of individual studies of evaluations of apprenticeships, as well as other systematic reviews of youth employment evaluations, in the Youth Employment Evidence and Gap Map.
The strength of the evidence for the impact of apprenticeships on youth employment compared to services as usual is low.
The network meta-analysis of evaluation findings for the Youth Employment Toolkit includes two evaluations of apprenticeship programmes that compare apprenticeships as a targeted youth employment intervention with ‘services as usual’ for young people, in high-income countries. Both of these studies evaluate programmes in the USA. Findings may not translate directly to the UK context.
An assessment using the Campbell Secretariat’s Critical Appraisal Tool suggests moderate confidence in the findings of these studies. However, the overall rating is low because of the small number of studies.
This research highlights the need for further evaluations of the impact of apprenticeships on youth employment outcomes for disadvantaged young people. Youth Futures is currently planning additional research in this area, including work on the take-up and completion of apprenticeships by young people from different ethnic backgrounds.
Very few studies evaluate apprenticeships as a targeted intervention to support marginalised young people into work. The research for the Youth Employment Toolkit only considers apprenticeship programmes that are used as a targeted intervention to boost youth employment rates. It does not include apprenticeship programmes that form part of a wider system of education and vocational training, such as the German ‘dual system’.
Different kinds of research provide some support for the view that apprenticeships may be effective in improving Youth Employment Toolkit outcomes. For example:
- A summary of evidence for the What Works Centre for Local Economic Growth found 11 studies that use a range of methods and measures to examine the impact of apprenticeships on employment outcomes, for people of all ages rather than just young people. Overall, this review indicates that apprenticeships ‘tend to have a positive effect on participants’ subsequent employment’.
- An analysis of income and employment data conducted for the Welsh Centre for Public Policy found a substantial increase in ‘job entry rates’ among apprenticeship completers at levels 2 and 3, as well as an increase in the duration of their employment. Again, this study looked at apprentices of all ages rather than just young people.
How does it work?
An apprenticeship combines job-specific skills through the on-the-job component with more general skills training. So, when a business hires an apprentice, they can teach them exactly what they need to know to work in a particular sector and type of role. This means that when the apprentice finishes their training, they are ready to start work right away. Because they have already worked at the company, they are more likely to get a job that is related to their apprenticeship. The employer similarly has a chance to assess the suitability of the young person. The apprentice is also more likely to remain employed, and to keep learning and progressing in their career. This also benefits the businesses that hire apprentices, as it helps to create a skilled workforce.
How to implement it well
The literature on how to implement apprenticeships is extensive. This summary presents some key themes. Please note that for the most part these reflections are not grounded in the kind of rigorous evaluation approach which underpins the quantitative findings in the meta-analysis, but instead reflect qualitative findings and descriptions of practice.
Effective outreach and recruitment, with targeted initiatives for under-represented groups
Outreach and recruitment activities can provide prospective apprentices with a detailed, easily understood and realistic picture of what an apprenticeship involves, including the split between work activities and training, and likely outcomes after completion.
Encouraging young people to consider a range of different apprenticeship options may improve the ‘match’ between learners and opportunities. Young people who don’t get a place on their first choice of apprenticeship, or at their first application attempt, can be signposted towards alternatives or advised on how to improve their prospects.
Where an under-represented group has been identified, these young people may benefit from proactive and targeted outreach, including:
- Partnerships with services and organisations that work with the relevant young people.
- Current apprentices acting as ‘role models’ within their communities.
- Recruitment materials that address under-represented groups, such as women in the construction and IT sectors.
- Programme design that addresses the barriers to participation that may affect specific under-represented groups.
- Complementary interventions and support to help young people develop and pursue their career aims, and have the confidence to do so.
Preparatory learning and orientation activities
Preparatory or pre-apprenticeship pathways that identify and address gaps in skills or knowledge for young people can improve both recruitment and completion. A summary and review of evidence by the What Works Centre for Local Economic Growth suggests that pre-apprenticeship programmes help to increase apprenticeship starts.
Building realistic expectations through an orientation period can also be beneficial. This can help learners understand how they will use their time during their apprenticeship, as well as the challenges they may face and how to overcome these. The orientation period can also help to get rid of misconceptions about apprenticeships.
In the UK, the Learning and Work Institute has developed a comprehensive guidance resource for pre-apprenticeship providers. The SkillsBuilder Partnership offers a useful suite of tools for identifying and addressing skills issues.
Well-structured programmes and learner support
Apprenticeships involve a diverse range of activities at work and in education. Learners can benefit from programme design that helps them to maintain motivation, and understand their professional and personal development. For example:
- Frameworks for monitoring progress in learning.
- Learner progress reviews, with target-setting, constructive feedback, opportunities for reflection, and recognition of attainment.
- Pastoral and wellbeing support, especially for those at risk of marginalisation, so that each young person has a specific contact they can turn to for support.
- Support and training for line managers. The Learning and Work Institute publishes a detailed guide for line managers of apprentices.
- Quality assurance of teaching and learning, for both on- and off-the-job provision.
The Learning and Work Institute also provides a guide for training providers to help them plan and appraise their support offer for apprentices.
A good balance between theoretical, technical and interpersonal skills
Apprenticeships need to support young people to develop a range of skills so that they can complete the programme, progress in their careers, and build long-term employability. For contemporary apprenticeships, this means provision for:
- Practical and industry-specific skills, largely gained in the workplace
- Foundational vocational knowledge and key ‘theoretical underpinnings’, primarily gained through the off-the-job element.
- Critical thinking and transferrable skills.
- Interpersonal skills and workplace behavioural skills, to support ‘work readiness’.
Specialist support for apprentices with additional needs
Young people who are at risk of marginalisation in the labour market may experience barriers to participation in apprenticeships, such as special educational needs, psychological health and wellbeing issues, financial hardship, and personal circumstances. Some or all of the following kinds of support may contribute to successful engagement and completion for young people who face additional barriers in the labour market:
- One-to-one specialist support
- Adaptations to learning materials and workplace tasks
- Referrals to additional services
- Provision of equipment
- Other forms of material support
- Flexibility in programme activities
- Training for tutors and managers
Close collaboration and join-up at all stages between education providers and employers
A strong relationship between education providers and employers supports effective apprenticeship implementation. This includes:
- Collaboration at all levels.
- Clarity on responsibilities and roles of organisations and individuals.
- A detailed examination of the relationship between classroom, workshop and workplace learning, that brings together tutors, team leaders and managers.
- A designated individual in each organisation with responsibility for the relationship.
- Regular opportunities for staff training and good practice sharing.
- Sufficient time during the work elements of the programme for apprentices to reflect on their learning and engage in on-the-job training activities.
- Opportunities for college tutors to spend time in the workplaces where apprentices are based, to improve their own understanding of current industry practice.
A close match to local economic priorities
Apprenticeship provision should be closely matched to opportunities in the local labour market and the skills needs of employers. In the UK context, the Unit for Future Skills has been established to improve understanding of current skill mismatches and future demand across the UK, and the Local Skills Dashboard provides detailed information.
Partnerships between employers, policymakers, learning providers and community organisations can help to achieve a closer match. Key factors include:
- Involvement of employer representatives at all stages of planning for apprenticeships.
- Effective and well-supported intermediary and infrastructure organisations.
- Support for the needs of small and medium firms as well as large employers.
- Flexibility within national or regional frameworks to meet the needs of specific groups of learners, sectors, and employers.
- Where possible, a strong ‘lead voice’ for apprenticeships to ensure that they are considered in discussions of economic development and opportunities for learners.
Summary of evidence
- Relatively few studies evaluate the impact of apprenticeships as an intervention to improve youth employment outcomes. This is separate from the impact of apprenticeships as part of an education and training system, such as the ‘dual system’ in European countries such as Germany.
- Findings from the two studies conducted in the USA that met the criteria for the component network meta-analysis suggest that apprenticeships could have a high impact on youth employment outcomes for disadvantaged young people.