From education to employment

Do apprenticeships give you skills for life?

There’s often discussion in the media or at education events about whether #apprenticeships give people skills for life.

Some people think they’re too limited to one occupation, while others think they’re the answer to the UK skills gap.  

Whatever you think, it’s clear that people need to develop skills outside the classroom – an opinion that was seconded by Resolution Foundation published last week. In their briefing note, they discussed the decline of the Saturday job – only a quarter of today’s 16-17-year-olds have a Saturday job. 

After reading a BBC article about this, I spoke on BBC Radio 5 Live about how working at the weekend and learning core skills in real-life work situations goes above and beyond what can be taught in the classroom – which is what apprenticeships do too.  

As an ambassador for apprenticeships in the UK and abroad, this is something I feel really passionate about, so I thought now would be a good time to explain why I think apprenticeships do give people skills for life.  


Before apprentices start their apprenticeship, they have to complete an initial assessment for recognition of prior learning (RPL) – a process to recognise the skills they already have before the programme. This early self-assessment is rare in formal qualifications and allows apprentices to reflect on their learning and play an active role in their development.  

This early self-reflection also helps to promote lifelong learning – especially for apprentices who start at level 2 or 3 apprenticeships. As soon as they start work, they’re in the routine of self-reflection, learning and applying their skills, so it becomes a habit. This encourages and empowers people to learn new skills, progress their career and secure their place in the future UK workforce – which is what apprenticeships are all about.  

Back to basics

Apprenticeship standards are based around KSBs – the knowledge, skills and behaviours an apprentice must meet to pass the course. It’s the behaviours, the ‘core skills’, that really prepare apprentices for the world of work, help them learn how to learn, and give them skills for life. 

Without learning these core skills – like time management, overcoming mistakes and resolving conflict – people may struggle to progress. Many graduates enter the world of work lacking in these core areas and are actually at a disadvantage compared to apprentices.  

The KSBs in each standard are designed to be perfectly aligned to one occupation – but they’re so much more than that. They’re the foundation of learning an apprentice builds upon for the rest of their career.  

Life of jobs

People don’t have a job for life anymore – they have a life of jobs. Industries and technology are changing all the time, so people across all sectors have to upskill to keep up.  

recent article from the World Economic Forum about reskilling really resounded with me. They stated that ‘42% of skills requirements are expected to change by 2022’, so reskilling is one of the major challenges of our era. They also said that many of these skills can’t be learned in a university lecture hall – people need to be equipped with a bespoke, flexible skillset to help them flourish in their industry in the long-term. They also said that this model isn’t new – it’s an apprenticeship. 

Apprenticeships give people the core skills I just mentioned. Apprentices learn how to learn, so they have the skills they need to upskill throughout their life. Top this with real-life work experience on factory floors or trading floors, and the opportunity to progress from entry level to degree level, and it’s clear to me that apprenticeships are the answer. If that’s not skills for life, I don’t know what is.  

It’s all about confidence

Apprenticeships are a great way to change attitudes towards learning. They prepare people to learn throughout their life and give them the confidence to learn new things.  

Lots of people struggle with English and maths at school, but complete Functional Skills alongside their apprenticeship. For many people, it’s all about confidence. When they’re completing their apprenticeship, they’re doing a job they love and learning skills they need for the future, which is very different to many people’s experiences at school. Functional Skills are also often taught using examples that are relevant to job roles. When I used to teach Functional Skills in nursing homes, I would make it relevant to the care assistants’ roles – such as fluid charts, ratios of medication, etc – to help build confidence.  

When people are learning on the job, they’re learning the skills the need for the future and can apply their learning to real life – which gives them the confidence they need to grow.  

Apprenticeships give people skills for life

Apprenticeships are fantastic for social mobility. They give all people the opportunity to earn while they learn, so they can complete qualifications alongside a full-time job. They start with the basics – workplace behaviours, Functional Skills and how to learn – and provide a platform for people to build skills for life. This is crucial in today’s ever-changing, fast-paced world, so anything we can do to spread the word about apprenticeships is a step in the right direction. So speak to your children about apprenticeships, talk to parents, go into schools, hire apprentices in your company, or even do one yourself!  

Susanna Lawson, CEO and co-founder, OneFile

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