Colleges up and down the country have been busy staging events and activities to showcase the importance of apprenticeships and their contribution to business, industry and the economy, as part of the third National Apprenticeship Week (February 1-5).

My college joined forces with East Midlands Tourism for a ‘back to the floor’ exercise which saw its investment manager working as an apprentice chef at holiday village operator Center Parcs; just one of the many businesses whose apprentices we train.

We also staged an event in conjunction with the National Apprenticeship Service and Skills for Care to highlight apprenticeships in the health and social care sectors before holding an open evening so prospective students, parents and businesses could learn more about apprenticeship opportunities across a range of sectors.

While campaigns such as Apprenticeship Week are to be applauded for promoting apprenticeships as a relevant, work-based educational option for learners of all ages in this country, they also highlight the shift in approach to which the Government wants the FE sector to engage with employers.

The Government has underlined its commitment to increasing the number of apprenticeships so they become a mainstream option for young people, as signalled in the New Opportunities White Paper in January 2009.

While this is to be welcomed, less than 12 months ago colleges were being told that Train to Gain was the main vehicle for helping businesses to up-skill their workforce. I am disappointed this once ‘flagship’ programme is now playing second fiddle to the renewed focus on apprenticeships when both are equally as important and target different types of learners.

The cap on Train to Gain funding, coupled with the extra investment in apprenticeships, means businesses are simultaneously winners and losers; while colleges must once again demonstrate their flexibility in responding to the Government’s ever-changing priorities.

As one of just 12 organisations nationally to receive a share of £7 million to set up an Apprenticeship Training Association (ATA) or Group Training Association (GTA), I am delighted that my college is at the forefront of the drive to help employers deliver long-term apprenticeship placements for 16 to 18 year-olds. However, it also shows that the Government gives with one hand and takes away with the other.

I was encouraged that the Skills for Growth strategy stated the Government’s intention to create up to 35,000 places for advanced apprentices over the next two years, bringing the total number of apprentices to well over a quarter of a million for the first time ever.

Yet one has to ask whether the culture exists in the UK to support this level of expansion. While, undoubtedly, apprenticeships are deeply routed in many industries, it remains to be seen whether there is sufficient interest across all sectors. I would go as far as to suggest there is a ‘professional snobbery’ within some industries, who associate apprenticeships with artisan trades and manual professions. Unfortunately, some businesses regard themselves as too ‘high level’ to take on an apprentice.

This means colleges and the Government, through the National Apprenticeship Service, must continue to educate employers and their professional associations about the relevance of apprenticeships and their contribution to equipping businesses with a highly-skilled workforce, which boosts productivity and improves staff retention.

Is the Government’s target for increasing apprenticeships too ambitious? Only time will tell. However, the national ATA and GTA contract, based on the highly-successful Australian Group Apprenticeship Scheme, shows brave thinking and is an innovative approach to increasing employer engagement and boosting Apprenticeship opportunities.

But before the UK can even hope to replicate the Australian success, more needs to be done to promote the value and viability of apprenticeships amongst employers while at the same time creating more flexibility within the system to deliver an apprenticeship model that truly meets the needs of industry.

That should be the real target.

Asha Khemka OBE is principal and chief executive of West Nottinghamshire College

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