Demos: Two-thirds of parents who back apprenticeships say ‘not for my child’

  • Exclusive polling for the Demos Commission on Apprenticeships reveals persistence of negative stereotypes about apprenticeships amongst parents and lack of clear information from schools
  • Report calls for major reforms to careers advice and a new ‘mutual guarantee’ contract between employers and apprentices
  • Findings are the result of year-long Commission co-chaired by Conservative MP Robert Halfon and Labour peer Lord Glasman

Over 9 in 10 parents agree apprenticeships are a good option for young people, but only a third think it is best for their child, according to a major cross-party Demos report.

The poll shows just a fifth (19%) of parents had been spoken to by their child’s school about apprenticeships, whereas 45% have had a conversation about their child going to university.

Demos polled a thousand parents of 15 and 16-year-olds as part of its Commission on Apprenticeships – co-chaired by Conservative MP Robert Halfon, and Labour peer Lord Glasman. The year-long Commission – supported by the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) – brings together politicians, academics and industry experts to suggest ways to increase the number of high quality apprenticeships in the UK, and how to improve awareness and careers advice for young people.

Demos found parents overwhelmingly support the idea of apprenticeships, regardless of gender, age, class or background, with 92% believing them to be a good option. Three quarters of parents (77%) also feel the number of young people doing an apprenticeship should be higher than the 7% who are currently enrolled.

However it is clear that apprenticeships are still perceived by many parents as an option for the less academically able.

Parents are considerably more likely to say that apprenticeships are a good option for young people who struggle at school (86% agreed) than for those who achieve highly (57%). Even more starkly, just less than a third of parents (32%) think that an apprenticeship would be the best option for their son/daughter, compared to just over a half of parents (52%) who think that university would be the best option.

‘Happy, but not highly paid’

Demos also asked parents to say whether they felt university or an apprenticeship was the better route towards different types of careers for their children.

Almost twice as many parents think an apprenticeship is a better route to stable employment (42% vs 22% who felt university was better), and also job satisfaction (25% vs 16%). Meanwhile, two-thirds (63%) of parents think university is a better route towards highly paid employment (vs 12% who said apprenticeship).

More than half also said university is the best way to get to the top of a profession, while only 14% think so of an apprenticeship.

The Demos polling also revealed:

– Parents who had themselves completed an apprenticeship were three times as likely to have a conversation with a teacher about their son or daughter doing an apprenticeship (42% vs 15% of parents who hadn’t completed an apprenticeship).

– Only 1 in 4 parents (27%) feel apprenticeships are valued by their child’s teachers, while 83% felt that universities are a valued route.

Increasing the number of high-quality apprenticeships

The Demos Commission considered the results alongside findings from a call for written evidence, three oral evidence sessions – questioning employers, apprentices and training providers on the current system – and several case study visits to existing apprenticeship schemes across the country.

Their final report recommends:

– The introduction of a ‘mutual guarantee’ whereby employers would pledge money towards-off-the-job training in return for apprentices either completing their course or paying it back, in an effort to incentivise longer, more secure, apprenticeships with skill consolidation periods.

– The creation of a high quality public sector careers service to compete with other providers and be available to any schools that are willing to pay for the service.

– Offering all students aged 14-16 the chance to take a vocational subject alongside academic study, delivered through school and technical college partnerships.

– That government should improve data-sharing, and monitor pupils for several years after leaving school to get a better measure of the impact their choices have on their career.

Robert Halfon MP, co-chair of the Commission said:

“I have a passionate belief in apprenticeships. I want the culture change in our country so that doing an apprenticeship is regarded as even more prestigious than going to university. That is why I employed the first ever full time parliamentary apprentice and campaigned for a Royal Society of Apprentices. Apprenticeships are the answer to transforming our skill base in Britain and equipping our young people with the tools needed for the 21st century.”

Lord Glasman, co-chair of the Commission said:

“I once started an apprenticeship but it was too hard, so I gave up and went to university instead, This report shows that we have a long way to go before the skill and character required to complete a quality apprenticeship are fully recognised in Britain. We have privileged the academic over the vocational for too long.”

Ian Wybron, researcher at the think-tank Demos, said:

“All the major political parties agree we need to do more to promote high-quality apprenticeships. So it’s disheartening to see that so few parents and students are given the information they need to make an informed choice about them. Schools, businesses and policymakers should work together to promote apprenticeships as a first-rate option to be considered by all young people.”

Steve Radley, Policy and Strategic Planning Director at CITB, said:

“Awareness of apprenticeships is at an all-time high but too many of those closest to young people still rate it as a second choice. In construction, apprenticeships are a high quality option and a platform for a rewarding career but the message isn’t getting through to parents, schools and students. We need to work together to ensure that young people do not miss out on these opportunities and the exciting career paths that follow.”



 The report, The Commission on Apprenticeships is published by Demos on Thursday 5 March 2015. Demos researchers provided the secretariat for the Commission.

The project was supported by CITB.

For further interview or comment with author or to discuss the possibility of case studies please contact Charlie Cadywould.