As Director of Marketing for QA Apprenticeships, it is my team’s responsibility to generate applications from school students for our apprenticeship programmes. It’s an exciting challenge – the 16-24 year old demographic is often tech-savvy, heavily influenced by 3rd parties and have short attention spans which makes them one of the most demanding demographics to market to.

A challenge yes, but one of the fundamental reasons I love what I do. We have the privilege of getting to help young people find their footing on the career ladder. We get to showcase what the exciting world of work could offer them and in many instances influence what they go on to do. Take the past week as an example – we visited 10 schools across the UK and spoke to over 250 students about their futures.

In these exchanges we talk about the power apprenticeships have when they are designed with and for employers – that is when they can offer young people transferable, real-world skills. The conversations stimulate young people to think about their futures and it is why we have been able to help 10,000 young people start a career in tech – doing our bit to help plug the UK’s tech skills gap.

When I took on this challenge 2.5 years ago, I was nervous…applications were hard to come by and schools engagement was even harder work. We were able to bring in a steady stream of young people onto our programmes but we wanted to spread the word much further. I remember it being difficult to get interaction from any school faculty, no matter how we presented the opportunities, schools were just not buying it. Apprenticeships were a plan B – a backup for those who didn’t get in to the uni they wanted or the course they had originally planned on.

Fast-forward to today and I can report that applications to QA have risen by almost 50% since the introduction of the levy in mid-2017. This spike in applications for the programmes we provide (tech, digital and management) shows us a couple of things. Firstly that QA’s candidate attraction team are absolutely smashing it – and it’s true, they are – I am hugely proud of our wonderful team and the things they have achieved in the last couple of years. From pop-up parties to inspiring social advertising campaigns and even the odd TV appearance or 2 – it’s been one hell of a journey.

However, at the risk of diverting some of the credit away from the QA team, the meteoric rise in application volumes can also be linked to 2 other factors. Firstly, the conversation we are trying to engage young people in is becoming much more readily listened to, and we have the building blocks that government have been putting in place to thank for that. A lot of time and energy has been spent promoting the power of apprenticeships with ad campaigns, case studies and high-profile events and it is paying off. Young people now want to learn more about apprenticeships and schools are proactively reaching out to us to find out more – that really is a monumental shift.

Secondly, whilst I cannot speak for our competitors, I believe our applications are on the rise (and starts on programme too) as a result of our continued focus on ensuring we match the right person, to the right programme and the right employer. That way we can be sure that we are delivering real outcomes for all parties. This is another focus for what the government has been building with its apprenticeship reforms, but something we have always been sure of at QA. A programme is not useful unless it has the right person on it and is delivering the exact skills that employer needs.

The rise in application volumes is something I am hugely positive about and feel compelled to write about, especially with the bleak portrayal of apprenticeships I’ve read in a few newspaper articles recently. There remains a sense of resolute positivity at QA and among others involved in the enablement of apprenticeships, as we begin to see the building blocks taking real shape.

The buzz is building amongst young people, pioneering employers are leading the ways and strong foundations are in place. I am excited to see just how much applications shoot up in the months to come.