From education to employment

The “Aspirational” Apprenticeship: Why government support signals a shift in the perception of apprenticeships

Ben Rowland, Co-Founder, Arch Apprentices

In the past three years, the profile of apprenticeships has skyrocketed with a new system implemented in 2015 and the Apprenticeship Levy coming into full effect in April 2017.

The levy has raised a projected £2.675 billion this year and has been accompanied by a host of individuals voicing their support for apprenticeships.

In August 2018, Education Secretary Damian Hinds celebrated the shift towards ‘technical education’ and backed ‘degree apprenticeships’, which allow individuals to pursue a university degree whilst still being paid for full time work experience.

Furthermore, the Autumn budget announcement to reduce the amount that SME’s have to contribute to apprentice training costs from 10% to 5% and increase the percentage of funds an employer can transfer to their supply chain from 10% to 25% through a £695m boost, highlights that the government are still set on the value of apprenticeship training.

Changing negative perceptions

37% of parents still see apprenticeships as a “last resort” for their children. This has serious impacts on the perceptions of apprenticeships, especially as young people are often fairly impressionable to their parent’s views.

There are two issues here: the negative perceptions of apprenticeships coupled with overly positive views of university, which is the main alternative. Apprenticeships have to contest with certain historical connotations. In the past, they’ve been offered for primarily manual jobs, which are now a smaller part of the economy than they once were.

In addition, there has been some negative press over the past ten years. Certain apprenticeships have been low level and, therefore, not actually added value to either individuals or companies. Apprenticeships were intended to combat youth unemployment and not seen as a strategic priority. This has now changed. Modern apprenticeships are aspirational programmes that help young people build successful careers.  

The crucial step that apprenticeship suppliers have to take is to guarantee a high standard of corporate practice; apprenticeships simply must provide value for individuals and companies. Beyond that, we need to increase awareness of the benefits of an apprenticeship as alternative to a traditional university path.

The number of university students per year has almost doubled since the early 1990s and this subsequently has had an effect on the labour market: a university degree no longer comes with the guarantee of a stable job. 

The benefits of an apprenticeship

The introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy in April 2017 clearly highlights the government’s support of apprenticeships as a solution to the country’s growing skills crisis and to aid young people into a successful career.

The benefits to students are endless. But first, I would emphasise that the market has changed. University degrees no longer come with a guarantee of future employment but with thousands of pounds worth of debt.

By contrast, apprenticeships are an incredibly promising opportunity for young people who want to start work immediately. Unlike a university degree, apprenticeships throw an individual straight into an environment that is incredibly supportive of their professional growth.

Apprenticeships are also no longer limited to traditional manual jobs. Large multinational companies like Barclays, Sky, and BBC now offer young people a brilliant chance to start rewarding careers.

Plus, apprenticeships can help the wider economy. As mentioned earlier, the UK is facing a major skills problem, which is costing the economy over £63 billion a year. Apprenticeships offer the chance for young people and older to gain further development and advance their knowledge to do the jobs of the future.

Particularly with Brexit looming, it is going to be even more difficult to recruit talent from abroad. The UK will have to find a way to nurture home-grown expertise, and apprenticeships could well be the solution. Well-structured apprenticeship programmes can take someone who has the raw skills and turn them into a final article.

The rise of apprenticeship awards

Over the course of the past few years, the number of awards for apprenticeships has increased rapidly, with Arch nominated for several, including the National Apprenticeship Awards taking place tonight (28th November 2018).

Awards are a crucial part of the apprenticeship ecosystem. Employers have ambitions of having their own apprenticeships, but many of them get stuck in the bureaucratic quagmire that is involved.

Training providers, if they are good, have made it a speciality to build and manage these programmes on behalf of employers. They are motivated to rapidly spread good practice and to drive up the quality of learning overall.

However, historically, training providers, particularly independent providers, have not been given the credit they deserve at these awards. For example, at the National Apprenticeship Awards there is no award for training providers! They play a crucial role. Without training providers there would be no interaction with employers.

That’s not to say, however, that they are not without faults. The limited profile reflects historically poor quality, so apprenticeship services need to focus on excellent corporate standards to justify more recognition.

Nevertheless, Arch are looking forward to the awards ceremony, and wait with baited breath for the outcome.

Ben Rowland, Co-Founder, Arch Apprentices

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