Heather Clark and Mike Hanbidge look back on what’s changed since 2020 and what the future may hold for apprentice attraction.
Along with sending an ‘unprecedented’ number of cliches to room 101 in 2022, February’s ISE Delivering Apprenticeships Conference gave us the opportunity to discuss what’s changed since 2020 and what the future may hold for the attraction and recruitment of apprentices.
The event brought together a variety of perspectives, with those of us from the agency side, recruiters from big apprenticeship employers, and apprentices themselves giving insight on their lived experiences.
The big questions we wanted to explore were around changes in candidate motivations, marketing strategy shifts and looking ahead at what might be next.
Familiar motivators altered by a new landscape
Some of the things apprentices in 2022 are looking for have stayed the same:
- Earning while learning
- Gaining practical experience
- Avoiding debt
- An interest in the subject and industry
But some have deviated from the bread-and-butter motivations:
- Hybrid working and flexibility, but individualised for learning and development and inclusion
- Ethics, values, and environment – with a commitment to addressing inequalities
Apprentices’ behaviours and outlooks have also changed. They are:
- Spending more time on social media than ever before
- Posting less on social media despite the increase in viewing time
- Reassessing what is important in all areas of life
- Seeking human connection after a period of real world disconnect
Messages and delivery
The discussion then moved to the messages that employers should be creating to meet the expectations and requirements of apprentices.
Again, there were many topics here that are not a surprise. For example, wanting to know what the work will entail and what future prospects could look like. Considering the backdrop of the pandemic, the panel spoke about the importance of showing how building professional and social relationships with colleagues at different levels is part of the apprenticeship.
This also means employers being truthful if they’ve got something wrong, and open about being a work in progress.
One panellist made the insightful point that apprentices want employers to be able to say “we don’t know everything and have all the answers” – the heavy inference being “but we’ll try to find out and move forward positively”. This is more important still given the comments around the audience’s ability to see through cliched lines about moral or value driven topics – a trait attributed to ‘Generation Covid’. The clear take away here being that employers should stand for something, and back it up.
With messaging priorities defined, a key focus is how this is delivered and how to ensure the value and authenticity of your message is not lost.
We discussed how the rise of user generated content (UGC) was facilitated and born of necessity during Covid-19, but that it chimes better on certain channels than ad-style assets and corporate copy. The evolution of this continues as choreographed UGC becomes increasingly led by the contributor, fitting with trends of a preference for content that’s less about perfection and more about the story.
Events were discussed, with a clear need for a return to face-to-face conversations, but without turning away from virtual events altogether. Accessibility and inclusion has been damaged for some individuals and groups by Covid, but for others it has connected them to information they wouldn’t have been able to receive in person. The idea that ‘we’re all in this together’ once again proved wrong given individual differences in circumstance. A balance is needed, to achieve more equitable action for apprentices.
Authenticity, values, and honesty
Throughout the discussion, we kept coming back to the importance of authenticity. Authentic and transparent brand representation being demanded by apprentices, and authentic content that achieves the recruitment goals of employers.
As one participant explained, this audience really cares, and the issues individuals care about are personal to them and inform a set of values which they want an employer to match. By showing a company cares about the same things, and ensuring accurate representation of that company, lasting and valuable partnerships between employers and employees are formed.
Authenticity in employer branding has been the aspiration of companies for many years. But having multiple viewpoints at the table highlighted some areas where there is a disconnect between our ‘new normal’ about what authenticity means and how it is demonstrated.
Recruiters have historically interpreted authenticity as:
- Showing your people in your employer brand and communication material
- Demonstrating the positive elements and aspirations of life at your organisation
What apprentices are asking for in 2022, which is demonstrated in data trends and backed up by the experiences of recruiters, is something more real:
- Looser brand hold on tone of voice and visual representation
- Keeping the sentiment of employer value propositions but complementing the corporate voice with employee UGC that actually hails from the user
- A mixture of virtual and in person access points to facilitate conversation and to move towards inclusive, intersectional activity
- Adult-to-adult communication, denoting a more equal status between employer and potential employee
- Standing for something, and showing it with more than words
For the longest time, authenticity has meant showcasing your employees to tell candidates something about you as an employer. Now, it is shifting to mean developing a conversation between employer and candidate, each having the ability to discuss the relationship they want.
This was a shift that was happening before Covid but has been cemented and accelerated by what’s happened over the last two years. Those that will succeed in this space will be bold and brave. It may feel alien at first to change up the dialogue, but the results will be in recruiting apprentices aligned to brand values and motivated to help achieve business goals.