Apprenticeships, says the Minister, are good for young people, good for employers and good for growth. I agree.
With Apprenticeships Week now firmly etched on the sector's calendar, the spotlight of this year's celebration brought the successes, hopes and ambitions of apprentices into sharp relief. More than ever before it highlighted the pressing need for businesses to invest in skills in what are still challenging economic times.
'The Week' was a tremendous success with more than 500 events taking place up and down the country. But success is always worth quantifying – so I am pleased to report that the Week has greatly stimulated activity on the Apprenticeship website, with 35,000 unique visitors looking at the site on one day alone. Much of this was thanks to you in the sector who, together with employers, have put passion and energy into Apprenticeships Week.
Now we all have the task of translating the interest we together have generated into 'real' people starting an Apprenticeship. After all, the purpose of the event was to attract more learners and employers to explore the value of Apprenticeship: the value a boost of new skills, energy and enthusiasm can bring to a business; the opportunity for advancement, progression and success that learning brings to the individual.
There have been two other initiatives in recent weeks designed to underpin the value of Apprenticeships to ensure that they continue to be regarded as the key building block of our vocational system.
The first is the Specification of Apprenticeship Standards for England, or SASE, that was published last month. This statutory benchmark will ensure that young people and adults develop a broad range of sector specific skills, competencies and knowledge, alongside transferable skills for employment that will stand them in good stead in the job market.
I know some view this as just more complexity, but it is actually about protecting and strengthening this important brand. There is little point in growing apprenticeship numbers if in the process, quality declines because we did not define a robust and common standard. And a good deal of work is being done to ensure the transition to SASE frameworks is as smooth as possible and that there's no gap in the Apprenticeship offer to employers and apprentices. You can find out more on this at the Apprenticeship Frameworks Online website.
The second initiative was to change the terms by which we refer to Apprenticeships to make them more meaningful and understandable to the wider world. Instead of the rather obscure level 2, 3 and 4, there is now the self explanatory language of Intermediate, Advanced and Higher Apprenticeships. Over time, these terms will enhance public perception of the progression and coherence of Apprenticeships as well as help to establish the quality and value of Apprenticeships alongside academic qualifications.
And changing public perception to understand the quality and value of the vocational learning is an important objective for the Government, the Agency and the sector. And in this vein, the opportunity to support people to try new skills and start learning does not end with the tremendous success of Apprenticeships Week. In advance of WorldSkills London, to be held in October this year, John Hayes recently launched the WorldSkills Have a Go programme, through which hundreds of thousands of people will have the opportunity to try out a new skill.
This programme will run until the end of the year, and your college or training organisation could link up with WorldSkills London and hold a Have a Go event of your own, or add Have a Go opportunities to your existing events. We are hoping to attract a million participants in an effort to demonstrate to people the benefits of vocational learning.
There is more information at www.worldskillslondon2011.com/haveago. It is not only an excellent opportunity to open the minds of thousands of potential learners, but it will also enthuse staff and students about their training and career choices, and spur them on to give their best.
I had a go myself at the launch event in the lobby of BIS. I am planning to stick to administrative endeavours...
Geoff Russell is chief executive of the Skills Funding Agency, part of the Business, Innovation and Skills Department
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