Careers advice for school leavers, who are needed to drive the nation's economic recovery, is in a state of crisis - a report from Britain's young apprentices reveals.
The survey - carried out by the Industry Apprentice Council (IAC) - reveals a dangerous lack of support for school pupils interested in the apprenticeships pathway, or any pathway other than higher education.
The IAC, which was founded by specialist industry awarding organisation EAL and sponsored by IMI Awards, conducted the biggest ever apprentice-led survey by apprentices of apprentices, with hundreds lending their voice to the national debate.
"Plans to boost apprenticeship numbers in the UK should start with addressing the careers information, advice and guidance available to school pupils. I was told by my careers advice officer that if I followed the apprenticeship career path I would not become successful in life. Is an apprenticeship not a career? That surely is not the way to show support for a young student who at the time was facing exam stress," said Drew Reidy, IAC member and apprentice at BAE Systems' UK Electronic Systems Sector.
"The members of the IAC love being apprentices - a sentiment shared by thousands earning and learning across the country (98.5% satisfaction rate). However, many were left to their own devices when it came to finding out how to become one. More worryingly still 17% of respondents were actively discouraged from pursuing an apprenticeship by teachers and careers advisers."
Less than 9% of the almost 600 apprentice respondents said they found out about their apprenticeship through either their teacher or careers advisor. The numbers drop to around 6% for those who found out about apprenticeships via either careers fairs or the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS).
In fact, more than 50% said their own initiative was the key to learning about apprenticeships, with more than 35% using online research and 24% through a family member. Indeed, 13.4% said a suggestion from their parents was the catalyst, while 15% said a friend.
The survey reveals that less than a quarter of apprentices were encouraged to follow the apprenticeship pathway by their school or college. Nearly 40% of those that responded to the survey said the careers advice they received in school or college was either poor or very poor, with a further 7% claiming they did not receive any advice or guidance at all. Only 23% rated their school or colleges' careers information, advice and guidance as good or very good.
Julia Chippendale, Managing Director of EAL, the specialist industry awarding organisation which established the IAC to give a voice to British apprentices, said: "The survey is a testimony from the generation of young people which we need to lead us to a brighter, better, more productive future.
"Their experiences are both uplifting and depressing in the extreme. Government, industry and agencies are working extremely hard to ensure that this country has the right flow of skilled people to create growth in the economy. Now we must ensure that the message is delivered to the very people that need to hear it - school pupils."
When it came to apprenticeships perception within schools and colleges, compared with further or higher education, the vocational route was far from the limelight. 62% of respondents said higher education was perceived as the number one pathway to aim for, while 20% said further education. Only 4% said apprenticeships were viewed as a number one route following compulsory education.
Despite this, the majority of apprentices had found that their experience of apprenticeships had changed their friends and families' perceptions. More than 69% said their friends and family think more highly of apprenticeships now. 40% said some of their friends, family or colleagues had even started apprenticeships since, and almost 50% said they wished they had taken an apprenticeship.
Apprentices are even more enthusiastic and committed than those in higher education - the extraordinary 98.5% satisfaction rate compares favourably to a 85% rate in a recent poll by HEFCE Higher Education Fund Council for England).
The survey polled apprentices across a range of sectors, including engineering and manufacturing, automotive, building services, construction, energy and utilities, and logistics, from around the UK.
The full survey results are available on the Industry Apprentice Council section of the EAL website.