Richard Marsh, Apprenticeship Partnership Director, Kaplan Financial

I was recently at the 2019 Innovative Apprenticeship Network conference [INAP] in Germany.

It’s a conference held every two years to review some of the leading research into Apprenticeships.

As ever it was fascinating to hear what’s happening with Apprenticeships in other countries (see below) and it was great that there were several UK delegations present.

I also spent time speaking to the Godfather of German Apprenticeships Proff Felix Rauner who had a really interesting lesson from history.

We all know about the great success of German Apprenticeships and their famed dual-learning model. But what is interesting was to learn why their apprenticeships are formatted as they are and what they are designed to achieve.

Proff Rauner explained that in the 1970s as German and US carmakers were rapidly losing ground to their Japanese rivals a lot of research was conducted into how Japanese workers were able to operate at such a higher level of quality.

One of the key findings from M.I.T and leading European research bodies was that Japanese workers were able to take more ‘ownership’ of problems and to find solutions to problems whereas European and US workers had a narrower skill (and mind) set.

These studies led to the introduction of innovative ‘lean’ manufacturing techniques, ‘just in time’ production lines and in Germany (and Switzerland and Austria) the recognition that modern manufacturing workers needed a broader level of education and training in order to equip them to find their own solutions and innovations.

I.E. that learning Technical skills and mastering a trade was not enough and that the evolving economy needed well rounded individuals that can call on a variety of learning when faced with issues.

In Apprenticeship, the dominant form of non HE education in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, this took the form of an allying technical training to a much broader academic curriculum that includes subjects such as Social studies, Foreign languages, Art and Science.

This broad academic base meant that workers still had to spend a lot of time in class as well as in work; hence the ‘Dual’ – system was born.

Is there a lesson for us now as we face industry 4.0 and the digitalisation of office work?

We are often asked by employers to add ‘Digital’ skills to apprenticeships in areas from Banking to Accounting – this is not easy to do within the existing focused standards format. In particular the rules that training must be explicitly matched to the standard to ‘count’ can be restrictive.

However to keep apprenticeships ‘innovative’ it will be necessary for them to become more permissive and more expansive or they will be in danger of training people for jobs that might not be recognisable in the near future.

It is not possible to future proof each standard as i) we don’t always know what’s coming and ii) this would require an inordinate amount of redrafting and publishing.

So we need to allow employers and providers to work together to add skills that will develop more flexible and self-confident workers, better able to adapt to change.

The unique challenge for us in England is that in an all-age, all-level programme it is hard to specify a wider curriculum that is suitable for all.

We tried this before with ERR (employee rights and responsibilities) for example but these were designed for those new to work, and so dropped away when we went all age.

But we could and should find room for employers and providers to add context and wider learning without concerns about how this will impact on 20% off the job or levy rules etc.

We do already have a working ‘precedent’ for this, Functional skills. They are ‘beyond standards’ and seen as useful for everyone; broader skills useful for the individual in longer term.

Why not allow things like Digital and Problem solving to also be added as part of an Apprenticeship, where they can be shown to enhance long term career viability and support workers through structural changes to job roles?

Other highlights from the world of Apprenticeships: Apprenticeships in the ‘Anglosphere’

Professor Leesan Wheelahan opened the conference with an interesting presentation comparing Apprenticeships in Canada and Australia.

The latter of which is probably the most similar to the UK programme and so always of interest. She spoke about the unregulated and sometimes chaotic labour markets that operate in the ‘Anglosphere’ and how societies with rapidly changing populations can host effective Vocational systems.

In Canada ‘how to become an electrician’ does not have a single or a straightforward answer – an anathema to more organised labour markets.

Canada has no Ministry of Education and all skills and education matters are devolved to the regions and so there is no nationwide system of standards – something we have also chosen to adopt….

We also heard how Hungary has moved rapidly from having chronic unemployment to a structural skills shortage and how the Government has responded by re-awakening their Apprenticeship tradition.

Along with Austria they are now guaranteeing an Apprenticeship place for all school leavers. Although some of these places are on Government ‘schemes’ that we would describe as ‘programme led’ it’s an interesting idea that we have also toyed with in the past.

The inimitable Proff Erica Smith, spoke about the parallel ambitions for Apprenticeships in Australia. Can they meet both the Social aims of integration and mobility and the Economic aims of productivity and efficiency? Again, a challenge that we would recognise.

Colleagues from the Institute of Technology, Sligo Ireland spoke about the early impact of their 2016 reforms which gave employers more input but also greater responsibility. After several fallow years Apprenticeships are on the rise again in Ireland with Degree level options and some interesting ‘pooling’ schemes in traditional sectors it will be very interesting to see how our neighbours get on.

There was a great presentation from Edge colleagues Olly and Andrea which lied to a lively discussion about whether training time should be paid. With representatives from the US arguing that training time can be additional to work-time but others insisting Apprenticeship has to take place during paid work-time.

The EU’s vocational body (CEDEFOP) reported on its world-wide Apprenticeship audit, which found 30 different national Apprenticeship programmes in existence in 2018. Like botanists identifying species they have then categorised and labelled them all.

Apprenticeship diversity is still strong and there is no risk of Apprenticeships becoming extinct any time soon.

Why not order a copy of the findings when they come out, and delve into the wonderful world-wide world of Apprenticeships…

Richard Marsh, Apprenticeship Partnership Director, Kaplan Financial

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