From education to employment

Aiming for average

Roger Francis is a Director with Creative Learning Partners LtdRoger Francis is a director at Creative Learning Partners

“Simply The Best”, sang Tina Turner many years ago, “Better than all the rest”. I wonder how many times that anthem has been played at sales conferences and award ceremonies around the globe. However I suspect that if she had sung instead “Simply slightly better than average, better than some but not as good as many”, then her royalty cheques may have been slightly diminished.

Seeking to be genuinely world-class is an aspiration which should inspire us rather than scare us but I sometimes feel that when it comes to Apprenticeships, many people would be happy to simply maintain the status quo rather than embracing the changes which are necessary to make our Apprenticeship model “Better than all the rest”.

I believe there are 7 key principles which together would underpin a world-class Apprenticeship programme:-

  1. A programme which is led by “Demand” rather than by “Supply” where Apprenticeships become a high quality brand which employers are desperate to acquire rather than a commodity which is supplied as “free Training”
  2. A programme which is led by highly-committed employers who make a genuine financial contribution towards the costs of the training and who provide their Apprentices with full ongoing support and the opportunity for a long-term career
  3. Genuine progression through to higher level Apprenticeships. A Level 2 Apprenticeship should be viewed purely as a starting point – not the end of the learner journey
  4. All Apprentices to be paid the full rate for the job they are doing, not the pitiful Apprenticeship Minimum Wage. Apprentices are not “cheap labour” – they are our future
  5. Rigorous assessment and an ongoing commitment to quality improvement
  6. Level 3 Apprenticeships to become the norm. Currently over 80% of Apprenticeships are at Level 2. This is equivalent to GCSEs and simply training people to a level which they should have achieved at school, is not going to solve our skills crisis
  7. Effective careers advice. Apprenticeships are not a fall-back option for people who have failed academically, they should be positioned as an equal alternative to University

I would much prefer to see the Government committing themselves to building a World-Class Programme by implementing these proposals, rather than focusing on a huge increase in Apprenticeship numbers. Of course we want to see more young people taken off the wretched NEET register, but this should be far more that a short-term and cynical attempt to massage the unemployment figures. I want to see people getting a quality learning experience with a highly committed employer and the likelihood, if not guarantee, of a full-time job at the end of their training. If we cannot offer that, then we are simply setting people up to fail and throwing them back on the scrapheap on completion of a “dead-end” Apprenticeship.

Huge strides have been made in developing the Modern Apprenticeship programme over the last decade but we have to accept that there is still a long way to go if we are to be able to compete in the global market place. To achieve that, there has to be a universal acceptance of the need for further change.

Change Management is a difficult and often painful process which more often fails than succeeds. I sense that within the FE sector, there is still a powerful resistance to change and the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mind-set tends to prevail. To some extent, I can understand that attitude because I believe that successive governments have mishandled the change process, primarily through a lack of early consultation. It’s no good telling people that something is going to happen and then asking for their views on the issue and that, in effect, is what happened with the Apprenticeship Reform proposals.

However, whatever mistakes have been made in the past, the only way we can become “Better Than All The Rest” is by focusing on the future and committing ourselves to a long-term World-Class Apprenticeship programme. That will require courage, leadership and commitment from people who are not afraid at times to go out on a limb and who will challenge stale ideas and short-term thinking. I am sure those people are out there and now is the time for them to step up and be counted.

Roger Francis is a director with Creative Learning Partners Ltd, a specialist vocational training company focusing on the delivery of Functional Skills

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