Professional Body Membership for Apprentices: Expanding Pathways for Success
Apprenticeships are often framed as being effective when the training is planned and delivered through the triangle of apprentice, training provider and employer. However, the apprenticeship landscape can include other organisations, that bring with them opportunity for amplified learning and enhanced professional development.
To consider how Professional Bodies can best contribute, the Science Council commissioned research between January and June 2023, exploring the ‘wants, needs, aspirations, and challenges of apprentices’, with the use of both in-depth interviews and online surveys. The findings are being used to form a better understanding of apprentices’ needs and consider how membership with a Professional Body can best support. This blog looks to share some of the key findings.
Definition of a Professional Body
To begin, let us start by defining what is a Professional Body. On the Science Council website, we quote:
‘A Professional Body is an organisation with individual members practicing a profession or occupation in which the organisation maintains an oversight of the knowledge, skills, conduct and practice of that profession or occupation. In the case of a science Professional Body, the members of the professional body should be practicing science.’
(Science Council, Our definition of a professional body 2019)
Or as an alternative, it could be described that a Professional Body is an organisation that represents a specific profession or industry. Its’ role including the support of professional development of its’ members and serving as a voice for the profession in various settings.
Now that we have a sense of what a Professional Body is and how membership forms an essential part, let us now consider the research findings and reflect on how apprentices can be best supported.
Identity – The findings of the research showed that apprentices consider themselves predominantly employees, followed by being an apprentice and least of all as a student. This demonstrates the professional status apprentices apply to themselves. For those apprentices of more mature years, the identity of being an employee was even stronger.
Challenges – By far the most common challenge expressed was that of balancing work and life. When exploring this in more detail, a third element of ‘study’ comes into the fold, with the resulting trio of work, life, and learning. This led to related challenges expressed by some apprentices, of struggling to meet their study deadlines, or feeling that their employer may feel that they are neglecting parts of their day-to-day work, due to the intensity of apprenticeship assignments. This was then further compounded by in some cases a lack of skills to learn independently.
Accessing Support – Apprentices seek most of their support from their line manager and mentor. They also valued the support apprentices on the same programme could offer, through peer learning. Additional to this, other colleagues and apprentices within the same workplace were also seen as useful points of support.
Aspiration – Encouragingly for employers who invest in apprenticeships, the main aspiration expressed by apprentices on completion of their apprenticeship, is to establish a career in their current role. This was complemented by a desire to apply for more senior roles, complete further and higher-level apprenticeships, as well as applying for professional registration.
Apprentices’ engagement with Professional Body membership
Having this foundation of awareness on what the key challenges are for apprentices, and how they aspire beyond the apprenticeship, enables more thought on how membership with a Professional Body, can enhance both their learning and training during the apprenticeship and best position themselves for long-term professional development.
Current membership engagement – In terms of the research sample, 59% of respondents were not currently members of a Professional Body. For the 41% minority that are, it is through an introduction to membership by their line manager, which is the most common reason for their initial engagement, with further recommendations by apprenticeship delivery staff. Alongside this recommendation, the motivation of supporting career progression was a key driver for accessing membership.
Barriers to membership – inversely, for most of the sample that were not members, the main reason was due to a lack of awareness of how membership could benefit and support them, both during the apprenticeship and for their longer-term career development too.
Preferences in communication – Apprentices had a clear desire to network and specifically at in-person events. This was supplemented by preferences in gaining information, advice and guidance through other online conferencing opportunities. Apprentices also demonstrated a preference to receive communications through email rather than social media.
Membership features of most value – Apprentices held a high demand for face-to-face networking opportunities, mentoring and webinars. They also saw a strong benefit in accessing articles, publications and research material, alongside conferences and workshops.
Access to training courses that enabled the application of technical ability, were in high demand. They were seen as a way to complement the apprenticeship training so to contextualise the content in a manner that supports career development. Some examples of these skills included: Leadership; Adaptability; Time management; Conflict resolution; Persuasion; and Negotiation to name a few.
Apprentice benefits of membership with a Professional Body
When we explore the benefits of Professional Body membership, it is clear that including membership as part of the fabric of the apprenticeship can bring great benefits both during and after the apprenticeship. So why should an apprentice consider joining a Professional Body?
As a summary it could be highlighted that they become a part of a professional community, have access to content and activity that can develop deeper knowledge and its application, with access to support for their professional development and employability.
As a member of a Professional Body, apprentices can benefit from features such as:
- In-person conferences and networking events
- Webinars and workshops
- Engagement opportunities with forums and special interest groups
- Access to articles, publications, newsletters & membership magazines
- Guidance in continuous professional development
- Access to training courses in both technical and soft skills
- Assistance through mentoring
- Guidance to support professional registration applications.
By reviewing both the findings of the research and purpose and features of Professional Body membership, it demonstrates a strong alignment between what apprentices want and need, and the support that membership can deliver. One way to better advise and promote this, so to enable more apprentices to access membership, is through employers and training providers. The research findings demonstrated that they have a key role in communicating the benefits in terms of both professional and career development.
At the Science Council we are keen to support this with information, advice, and guidance. We have a range of resources and activities to facilitate exploration of this topic in more detail. For more information please visit https://technicaleducation.sciencecouncil.org/apprenticeships/
If you would like more information on the professional bodies that form the Science Council, please use this link – https://sciencecouncil.org/about-us/our-members-and-licensed-bodies/
Our definition of a professional body (2019a) The Science Council ~. Available at: https://sciencecouncil.org/about-science/our-definition-of-a-professional-body/ (Accessed: 19 December 2023).
Tom is the Apprenticeship Programme Manager at the Science Council. He has worked in technical and vocational education for over 20 years, in roles including: assessing; quality assurance; curriculum management; qualification design, technology enhanced learning; and policy. The experience has been gained through employment within the FE Sector, Private Training Providers, and Professional Bodies.