The Apprenticeship Option

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Apprenticeships have been around for a long time and over the years they have undergone several re-inventions and “tweaks”. But, the thing is, Apprenticeships work. They just do. And yet, a recent report by the Sutton Trust found that two-thirds of secondary school teachers would not recommend apprenticeships to pupils with good grades. That is heart-breaking if you ask me; not because I work directly with Apprenticeships but because that means individual students and local employers are missing what could be amazing experiences and outcomes.

Obviously, it is understandable for schools to want to hold on to their students, particularly the best and brightest. That’s okay; because a student can still access an Apprenticeship after sixth form. Often this allows more time for the student to mature, gain work experience and more clearly define a personal career choice. But I have also lost count of the times I have heard discussions that allude to Apprenticeships being for those that “struggle with traditional exams” or those that “have a different way of learning”. The traditional “trades-only” view of apprenticeships is totally outdated, as is the idea that apprentices are cheap labour for business. I was hearing these comments when I was at school and to still be hearing it almost thirty years later is infuriating to say the least. Given the recent Apprenticeship reforms – the introduction of the levy, new standards and higher apprenticeships – the range of high-quality opportunities available locally has never been higher. More and more employers are taking Apprentice’s at different entry points and providing training at a higher level, progressing staff from junior roles to senior roles while in work. Apprenticeships deserve parity with more traditional, post-16 educational options.

Now dear reader, at this point, I want to make it absolutely clear that I am not saying the Apprenticeships are preferable to the A-levels / University route or to full-time FE courses. While I don’t want to wade too deeply into the whole finance debate, it is worth noting that the Bank of England, National Audit Office and others have all drawn attention to the poor salaries that many graduates are faced with following 3 years’ of higher education. My point is, there is room for all of these options to exist, side-by-side. The traditional academic pathways are not the answer for all students, even those that are hitting those top-end GCSE grades. There are still plenty of the ‘square peg, round hole’ scenarios that some students find themselves in each year. Call me idealistic, if you must, but we all have a duty to be looking at the best route for that individual learner, and to build their future career.

Rod Bristow, President of Pearson UK;

"Students want an education route that is right for them. With rising university fees and growing concern about the effectiveness of more traditional education routes, students are more conscious than ever before of the need to gain valuable employability skills in the most efficient way possible."

The journey from education into employment is often nonlinear (not straightforward). It’s fair to say that most people’s career paths (including my own) are nonlinear too. Why? Because a fundamental shift is taking place; the path to getting a job requires education and experience; the theory and the practical. This is why educational institutions, of all levels, are increasingly including employer contact and work experience placement as part of their offer. We also recognise that there is no “guaranteed” route to a fulfilling and challenging career. Even the most considered and well-structured plan may have to be adjusted from time to time. But having knowledge of the full range of opportunities gives more room for manoeuvre.

I recently read an article by Gerry Macdonald Group Principal and CEO of New City College, London. In the article Mr Macdonald said this;

"If we are to sell apprenticeships to the next generation of young people then we must take care to define and nurture a brand and a programme that belongs at the heart of our skills strategy."

I like this statement. Apprenticeships are not THE skills strategy, but they are at the heart of it. There are multiple pathways to career success!