Government launches campaign to revitalise apprenticeship programme

Apprentice numbers are falling despite government's ambitious targets.

The Department for Education is seeking to rejuvenate the government’s apprenticeship programme with a major campaign encouraging a reappraisal of the scheme.

The work, created by M&C Saatchi, introduces a new strapline, "Fire it up", that is designed to appeal to employers and candidates alike.

In the TV ad, electrical sparks are seen coming off apprentices and everything they touch, symbolising the energy, passion and spirit of the apprentices. It was created by Matt Lee, Dom Moira and Kieron Roe, and directed by Tom Green through Stink. 

The film marks a sharp contrast to the more corporate feel of the apprenticeship campaign created by FCB Inferno.

The government is launching the advertising blitz as it struggles to sign up enough apprenticeships for its self-imposed target.

In 2015, the government announced a commitment to create three million apprenticeships by 2020, but it now looks set to miss this target after signing up just half of that number by the end of the last academic year. 

Apprenticeship sign-ups have been in steady decline, with only 375,800 starts reported for the 2017/18 academic year, down 24.1% from 494,000 in 2016/17. The latter figure already represented a 26.2% fall from the 509,400 starts in the 2015/16 academic year.

A sharp drop in apprentice numbers has coincided with the introduction of an apprenticeship levy in May 2017 on businesses with a payroll of more than £3m – something that has proved unpopular with big business.

Gemmaine Walsh, director of the DfE communications group, said: "This is a flagship government campaign which has the potential to change how people think and feel about apprenticeships – and have a real impact on the lives of thousands of people."

M&C Saatchi was hired by the DfE in October last year after a competitive pitch and was handed a remit to launch a campaign to champion apprenticeships as an "extraordinary tool for learning".

M&C Saatchi chief creative officer Justin Tindall said: "Apprenticeships have a perception problem. They’re not seen as a cool, active choice. This groundbreaking, progressive campaign sets out to turn that perception on its head by shining a light on the energy, passion and palpable spark that embodies apprentices and the exciting range of career paths open to them."

Activity will run across all major TV channels and video-on-demand, as well as cinema, social media and search.

The "Fire it up" idea will also sit at the heart of all engagement activity, from career fairs to school engagement programmes, as well as employer and intermediary engagement schemes.

A new website,, is also being launched to offer a jargon-free overview of the scheme for employers and candidates. The website was created by a joint team from M&C Saatchi and the Education and Skills Funding Agency.

M&C Saatchi’s new creative tech offering, M&KE, which is led by Niall Wilson, was behind the website and supporting content.

Wilson said: "Our collaboration with the brilliant ESFA team in Coventry has broken new ground for It puts us in great shape to keep this idea active and front of mind, in-between peaks of campaign activity."

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