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    For me, 2017 was a year for both professional and personal reflection.

    As an employer of apprentices, I was excited to see what opportunities the introduction of the apprenticeship levy would bring. 

    I’ve been part of some great apprentice journeys and saw what dedication and teamwork could achieve when in January I watched as my company was named a Top 100 Apprenticeship Employer at the National Apprenticeship Awards and again in November at the Construction News Investing in Talent Awards when we won Apprenticeship Scheme of the Year.

    But I also witnessed some very depressing events including the amazing efforts of a construction site manager at an Open Doors event for primary school children undone by an ignorant teacher who said “and this is where you’ll end up if you don’t do well at school” and tales of some schools choosing to withdraw teaching support at A Level for those students not considering University education. 

    In August last year, I employed Joe, an 18-year-old who had just finished his A Levels.  He wanted a career in marketing and social media and I needed someone to run our social media activities. 

    I was delighted to have found this bright, helpful young man who showed great aptitude and an instantly likeable personality.  He’d worked part-time while studying for his A Levels and had received an award from the Young Enterprise scheme for marketing which allowed him to set up a business that he stills runs today.  

    In his first month, I asked him to tell me about his journey from education to employment. How did he get there? Why did he choose to do an apprenticeship over going to University? What support did he receive and from who?

    As his employer, his answers frustrated me – but as a mum of 5 school age children, his answers terrified me.

    Joe decided in his second year of 6th form that he didn’t want to go to University. He didn’t want the debt and didn’t think he needed a University education to get the job he wanted. 

    But instead of support and guidance, he received a hostile reception to his decision from school and the very teachers who had been entrusted with supporting him through his A Levels.  

    Guidance was almost completely withdrawn and he was left to watch from the side-lines as his peers received one-to-one support from teachers with everything from day to day learning to writing the personal statements that would help them secure offers from different Universities. 

    Joe was under tremendous pressure to change his mind, but he remained steadfast. He achieved his A Levels in spite of his teachers and I’m pleased to say is doing really well in his advanced apprenticeship which he tells me he’s enjoying. Joe is already planning his Level 4 qualification and is convinced he made the right decision. I’m just glad he had the strength of character to make his own mind up.

    Fast forward several months and my sixteen-year-old stepson is now at risk of receiving the same treatment. He attends an outstanding grammar school but mirroring his school's attitude towards apprenticeships, he now refers to anything he believes to be substandard as ‘a bit of a BTEC’.

    He wasn’t allowed to do a work experience placement – common practice I’m told for students in top sets for Maths and English at GCSE level for fear that the placement provider (aka the big bad employer) might encourage the student to leave school post GCSEs and go into the world of work rather than remain in full time education.

    He will soon be coming to the end of his first year in 6th form and doesn’t know anything about apprenticeships, has never heard of National Apprenticeship Week or the Apprenticeship Show and has been told by his school that he MUST go to University.

    I’m not saying that he shouldn’t, but what happened to considering all of the options? How can he do this, if he doesn’t know what’s available to him?

    In December last year I began working with other businesses, helping them to think about how they could get the most out of their apprenticeship levy and what best practice looks like when it comes to recruiting, employing, managing and guiding apprentices through their training and achieving the best outcomes.

    I’m encouraged by what employers are doing - there are some amazing apprenticeship schemes and opportunities; not just for young people – for existing employees of all ages.

    The Government won’t achieve its 3 million apprenticeship target by 2020, unless it only wants to attract those kids who are told they aren’t good enough to do A Levels and an apprenticeship is their only hope:

    1. Until every school views an apprenticeship as a positive outcome
    2. Until young people stop holding the view that apprenticeships are sub-standard or a way out of education for under achievers
    3. Until parents and carers are given the information they need so they can help young people make informed and unbiased choices about their future
    4. Until we all recognise apprenticeships as a credible alternative to going to University

    No matter how many steps forward we might take as employers, nor how supportive we are as mentors, supervisors, tutors and assessors - apprenticeships and the apprenticeship levy will not truly benefit future generations until they are viewed as the norm, a choice, an item on a menu, one of many paths to take on the journey between the world of education and the world of work.  

    Apprenticeships are worthy of consideration and should be promoted to all, including the brightest and most academic of students. 

    Then, and only then, will we be able to look back and see a brighter future.

    Kerry Linley, Business Advisor - apprenticeships and the apprenticeship levy

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