It is an undeniable fact that ongoing training and development throughout people’s working lives will be an essential cornerstone of creating a sustainable economic future in the years ahead. In fact, a report from the World Economic Forum states that by 2025 44% of skills that employees need to perform in their role will change, thanks to the speed of technological advances. That’s a heck of a lot of outdated skills that will require a brush up.
Since 2014/15, apprenticeship starts at level 2 have dropped from just over 298,000 to approximately 143,000 in 2018/19. A ‘shake up’ of sorts may have been required, and the announcement that the Business Administration apprenticeship framework will not be replaced has revived once again the conversation about the future of level 2 apprenticeships. There is a very real risk that we are further reducing the opportunities that level 2 apprenticeships can bring to individuals and employers.
During the election campaign the pledges around Apprenticeships were there for all to see. Now that the campaigns are over and the victors are looking to the future and the defeated licking their wounds, I would like to make a case for an equal focus on Traineeships.Apprenticeships provide great learning and development for those in employment and Traineeships are a perfect opportunity for those seeking a foothold into employment. However, it's a bit like the housing ladder – it's good when you are on it and you keep up your payments, but getting to the point of having a deposit is a real challenge for many. The deposit in the education to employment area is an age old catch 22 – we need people with qualifications and experience but you can't get experience or qualifications without employment.The Traineeship programme has been with us for less than 2 years and there are signs that it may hold some hope of solving this riddle. It is designed for the unemployed and takes in people up to the age of 24. It contains the three essential elements that should provide learners and employers with confidence – maths and English, work preparation training and work experience. The programme is supported by the CBI, the TUC, a number of major companies and many providers are actively promoting and delivering high quality courses.However, all is not quite as rosy as one would like. Take up has not been as successful as we would all have liked and recruitment and retention have proved challenging. The recent evaluation into Traineeships was generally positive from all stakeholders but also identified some key areas where the programme could be improved. These included awareness raising, increased employer engagement in programme design, appropriate financial incentives for Trainees, greater collaboration between agencies and clarity on progression opportunities.For those of you that have long memories these findings are not dissimilar to those that surrounded Apprenticeships some years ago. Substantial time and investment has been made into designing and promoting Apprenticeships so that they are at long last becoming a well-regarded option for both leaners and employers. Traineeships need to be promoted widely and contain hard evidence for the learner and any future employer. This is why I would argue that a final certificate should be issued with a transcript of the trainee's achievements in all aspects. This could include qualifications or units covering vocational and attitudinal learning and which will be valued and recognised by potential employers.The Traineeship programme needs to learn from the Apprenticeship journey and become known as the route from unemployment to opportunity, a journey we should all support.David Phillips is vice president of Pearson Work Based Learning & Colleges
All the major parties have now published their manifestos and within these there are sections on employment and skills. Encouraging I hear you say but the devil is, as always, in the detail. It's not necessarily what is mentioned in the manifestos but what isn't that gives some hint of what lies behind the headlines.All three major parties remain committed to developing and growing apprenticeships. All three are committed to increasing quality and numbers of both learners and businesses. All three agree that there needs to be a trusted vocational route. However, all three seem to be focussing their attention on higher levels. We have a guarantee of an apprenticeship for every school leaver who gets the grades, an expansion of the number of degree-equivalent Higher Apprenticeships and the rolling out of many more degree Apprenticeships.These may be great ambitions as they all support learner progression, but where do the 148,000 learners (60%) who started a Level 2 Intermediate Apprenticeship in the first two quarters of 14/15 fit into this? Some will indeed progress to the higher levels but many will not. It also seems unlikely that an increase in apprentice numbers will happen without this intermediate stage.Many of the learners at this intermediate stage have failed, or been failed by, the academic pathway yet have found success at this level in a high quality vocational programme. Many will either not wish to, or be able to, progress beyond this stage but their success should not be diminished by excluding them or creating a barrier to achievement. Businesses continue to value their intermediate apprentices alongside their higher level counterparts.All learners need a starting point and for many entering a post 16 vocational programme this is at Level 2. Whether a successful intermediate level learner can be identified as having served a full apprenticeship is an area of considerable debate. I firmly believe they can but whatever position you take we must all agree that there needs to be clear recognition that they have achieved, perhaps for the first time in their life. The essence of a world class vocational system is that it is inclusive and empowering as well as demanding and rigorous with the latter two elements not being simply the domain of higher levels.The manifestos also highlight the need for more businesses to engage with apprenticeships and propose a range of measures to achieve this: more control over standards; the expansion of employment allowances for SMEs to include the 19-24 age range; a requirement for firms getting a major government contract and every large employer hiring skilled workers from outside the EU. All positive messages but what is missing from this is the pivotal role that other organisations play in making apprenticeships work. The success of apprenticeships also relies on those with the expertise in delivery and those who ensure that the industry standards are assessed appropriately, applied consistently and maintained over time. This is not simply a government-business compact but requires collaboration across a number of partners.Whoever wins the upcoming election will support apprenticeships which is good news for all those thousands of learners who prefer this learning and development pathway. However, an incoming minister will need to consider carefully how best to develop a truly world class programme which incorporates some of the principles adopted by those countries whose apprenticeship programmes are internationally recognised as best-in-class.David Phillips is vice president of Pearson Work Based Learning & Colleges
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