From education to employment

Preserving the Apprenticeship Legacy for Social Mobility

When there is a change of Prime Minister, commentators are quick to talk about the legacy left behind. This is usually simplified to one or two high-level strategic judgements or achievements. On this occasion, Brexit dominated but there were also wider reflections.

We have seen that almost all policies need reaffirmation. For Apprenticeships, three million more Apprenticeships over this parliamentary term was a rock solid commitment and we should be grateful for that as representing a continuing growth ambition for Apprenticeships.

My concern is that David Cameron left a legacy for Apprenticeships that is far more important than three million Apprenticeships and must be preserved.

He set the expectation that all young people leaving education should either go into Higher Education or into work in an Apprenticeship. Everyone should have the choice of two great routes as they plan their futures. This is an aspiration that we must keep and support Government’s efforts to achieve it.

Social mobility is back in the political spotlight. However, Apprenticeships are rarely mentioned in the same breath, despite many current CEOs proudly claiming they started on the shop floor as apprentices and numerous award ceremonies highlighting young people whose lives have been transformed by their Apprenticeship experience.

Let’s be clear. Giving somebody great training when they first enter the labour market makes a massive difference. This is giving them confidence in this new adult world and the opportunity to experience the joy of learning at work and its practical application. These are the first important steps, with the support of colleagues and trainers, that will help young people to fulfil their potential and go far.

Completing current reforms to Apprenticeships is vital for social mobility. It starts with the advice given to young people and their parents. I meet many parents who are unsure whether Higher Education is right for their child but lack the information or conviction to steer them in that direction. We have not yet reached the position where “two great routes” are easily seen and compared so that a decision can be made with confidence.

The Government seems at ease with older apprentices and that is good. Many people get well beyond their early twenties before they are able to find the life and job that enables them to settle into work and training. The accepted reality that people have a less linear career path and multiple changes of direction is accepted as fact. If so, the training system needs to keep up through supporting adult apprentices.

Progression opportunities are equally important. Completing the map of Higher Apprenticeships is vital. Convincing young people and their parents that gaining university experience later on is a realistic option requires far greater occupational coverage than we have today. Thankfully Government has picked up the pace with this and much of the HE sector is proactively engaged in widening and raising the availability of Higher and Degree Apprenticeships.

Ensuring that those who are currently on vocational courses in colleges are helped to find employers so that this training can be completed at work and as part of an Apprenticeship is very important.

Finally, employers are increasingly examining ways in which they can get the talent they need. Possibly the most celebrated is the Barclays programme to reach out to groups of people who had seen financial services as a distant sector unlikely to be interested in them. As Mike Thompson, Director of Early Careers at Barclays describes it: “Taking Apprenticeships to those who will benefit most.”

Many other companies are now following this route including those in sectors with low visibility and attractiveness to younger recruits despite having great job opportunities. They are seeking out young non-traditional apprentices often to reflect their customer base more accurately or simply to recognise that the competition for talent is getting more intense. They are looking harder and in different places.

So, Apprenticeships driving greater social mobility. One of two great choices facing young people. A legacy to hold onto and on which to build.

David Way

David Way is the editor of A Race to the Top – Achieving three million more Apprenticeships by 2020, published by Winchester University Press.

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