There is no better time than Apprenticeships Week to reinforce the transformational impact apprentices make to businesses. As the biggest Apprenticeships Week so far it is clear that the dynamic is changing – apprenticeships are becoming less under-valued in the market place. However, there is still a real need for apprenticeships to become more self-driven by businesses. The message that apprenticeships are good for business requires more vigorous promotion in the sector starting with the right information, advice and guidance in schooling right across to HE.
John Hayes, the Minister for FE, Skills and Lifelong Learning yesterday reassured us that apprenticeships are right at the heart of government’s skills ambitions. We must also be reminded that social mobility is re-ignited through apprenticeships. ‘Whoever you are, whatever your background’ everybody can aspire to be successful as an apprentice. The Minister reminded us that apprenticeships must be seen as a progressive route full of lifelong learning and achievement, not just as an end-game.
Britain still has a way to go if it is to mobilise growth and overcome its training constraints. It has been stated that 30% of UK companies engage in apprenticeship programmes compared to 90% in Germany. As a sector we must work together to overcome the reputational issues that apprenticeships face. In particularly, we need to address the issue that apprenticeships are second-best to academic routes and that apprenticeships are expensive for employers.
Nonetheless, Apprenticeships Week is a time to celebrate the incredible work that FE colleges are doing to create successful apprentices who fill this country’s skills gaps and to reinforce the theme for the week that apprenticeships are good for business. Leeds City College’s Head of Apprenticeships Yvonne Avison said; “We are keen to promote Apprenticeships in more non-traditional areas and are working hard with employers to demonstrate how they can support staff retention, succession planning and business development,”. Michael Motley, Director of Employer Engagement at New College Nottingham said it had increased its apprentice numbers substantially “due to the articulation and demonstration of positive impacts on business and the corresponding “buy-in” from our local employers.”
There is no doubt that 157 Group’s Members are fully engaged and behind Apprenticeships Week. At Sussex Downs College the Mayor of Eastbourne spent a day in the life of an apprentice. At Warwickshire College the local MP Chris White MP donned overalls and steel toe-capped boots to join engineering apprentices at the College’s Trident centre. Lewisham College has been busy celebrating the week running employer drop in sessions. Cornwall College’s apprentices have been trading places with hairdresser apprentices tackling carpentry for the day. Newcastle College will be running two taster days in hairdressing and health and care to promote the benefits of becoming an apprentice and Highbury College are offering breakfast apprenticeship briefings for employers within the automotive, marine and engineering sectors.These are just a handful of events taking place across our 27 colleges.
We are ensuring that 157 colleges are in the vanguard of quality apprenticeships enabling a better skilled workforce, better economy and better society where aspirations can be met.
Lynne Sedgmore is executive director of the 157 Group, which represents 28 of the most influential colleges in the FE sector