The announcement last week from the Association of Graduates has once again put the spotlight on apprenticeships. In its annual ‘Graduate Recruiters Summer Survey’, the organisation notes that apprenticeships provide a real alternative career path for some students. The juxtaposition of these two routes highlights the very real issue we face with apprenticeships in this country.
For far too long the work-based route has been the poor relation in the post -16 educational landscape in the UK. While academic education has conveyed a sense of prestige, exclusivity and opportunity through choice and access to resources, with some honourable exceptions apprenticeships do not have an equivalent cachet.
This must change and, fortunately, there are some encouraging factors. It appears likely that apprenticeships will be expanded by the Government as the value of work-based training is recognised as a potential solution to our current economic ills. However a simple expansion of apprenticeships will not fulfil that potential. To underpin a resurgent economy the apprenticeship framework must be urgently revised.
As the organisation responsible for selecting, training and developing the UK team for major international events like WorldSkills – which we are hosting in London next year – we have a critical interest in the quality of the apprenticeship system in this country. WorldSkills will take place at ExCeL, London between 5th – 8th October. It is a unique global competition where young people from across the world compete to become the best of the best in their chosen skill. WorldSkills 2011 will be the catalyst that sparks the ambitions of people across the country. By observing the ways in which other countries prepare their young people, and the results they achieve, we are uniquely placed to make international comparisons and feed back into the UK system the lessons that international competitions teach us.
The UK has some excellent organisations committed to training and development of the highest standard through apprenticeships, but these companies are in the minority. Instead, in too many organisations the training undertaken has limited ambitions.
The existing apprenticeship model in this country does not encourage an expansive high quality training culture that meets the needs of an individual over a sustained period of time. Industry needs training in place that will support a young person and their transition into the adult world of work. This is something that cannot be completed in twelve months, the current accepted length of an apprenticeship in this country.
Investing in apprentices does not produce profits or a return on investment in a matter of months. It needs patience and a long term perspective on what is valuable. Only when this is realised will we be able to produce apprentices with world class skills that excel in a global market.
Simon Bartley is chief executive of UK Skills, which champions learning through competitions and awards
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