With the apprenticeship levy just around the corner many training providers are working with their large (and smaller) employers to scale up the size of their apprenticeship programmes. However, there’s an inherent problem in the current apprenticeship model.

This crack has been present for many years and only a few employers and providers have addressed it, most training providers will admit that they are the ones smoothing over the crack.

It will have affected completion rates, employability skills and even whether an employer offers an apprenticeship at all.

This crack will only widen as apprenticeship programmes amplify.

That gap is in training the wider workforce how to work with an apprentice.

Think this through, a new apprentice is very different from a new employee, we know and understand that, however do the general public? Because it is the general public who are working alongside and training your apprentices on a daily basis.

Do they know how to deal with the social, the emotional or just the life issues that affect apprentices learning employability skills?

Do they know how to listen when an apprentice needs it?

Or do they see an apprentice as a cheap employee?

Scale up an apprenticeship programme and you risk scaling up these very problems.

For years, some training providers have been providing this support themselves or finding new placements for apprentices when it isn’t working out, they’ve been providing all of the pastoral support and glossing over this skills gap. With the increased emphasis on the employer being more in control as we move into a post-levy and post-trailblazer era, this is a pertinent time to be raising this issue.

Some providers already offer schemes to develop the skills and knowledge of the employers and report good results. Several high-profile employer providers run in-house mentoring schemes that match up apprentices with mentors. However, the majority don’t provide this level of support, very often relying on a fire-fighting approach to the pastoral needs of apprentices across the country.

What’s worrying is that the gap is being noticed by apprentices. In a small-scale survey 48% of apprentices said they felt unsupported by their employer and a massive 84% said they felt employers would benefit from more training on supporting apprentices.

Josie, 20, described her first experience of an apprenticeship “the company didn’t have anyone who knew about my job, I was thrown in at the deep end and given no mentoring on the things that I needed to learn to equip me to work.”

However, there are some who are seeking to change this and are actively working on solutions.

I’m in a unique position, having spoken to hundreds of training providers, boards, local authorities, NHS trusts and employers across the UK about this issue, I’ve ended up with a great insight into the different options.

One route is the National Apprentice Mentoring Qualification. This is something my team at The Mentoring School have developed from our educational mentoring courses. We worked with training providers, employers and apprentices to create a course that trains employers how to support the pastoral skills that often makes the difference to an apprentice. Our partner employers and training providers are viewing this as a way to add value to the offer they have and drive up results (especially when scaling up their programme), by training key employees how to mentor apprentices.

However, in my conversations I have learned that about a tenth of the organisations I speak to have something in place to plug this gap. There are some who provide training like the Award in Education and Training or the Training, Assessment, Quality and Assurance Award to their employers. Others rely on more general mentoring courses or even graduate mentoring programmes.

Other employers match their new apprentices with former apprentices as support. Others do a manager’s briefing on what to expect but only a rare few insist on mentors being in place.

So, if you are involved in the delivery of apprenticeships in any way, particularly if you are helping to increase the size of a scheme, this is something you need to be conscious of as you move forward.

Richard Daniel Curtis


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