Apprenticeships are very much back in the limelight at the moment. The word has been sprayed around like confetti at the Party Conferences, whilst at the same time the SFA is investigating allegations of malpractice in the delivery of Apprenticeships by major providers and provisional figures released last week show that the overall number of Apprenticeship starts in 2013 has fallen compared with the previous year.
So What’s Going On?
Listening to politicians as they hurl themselves belatedly onto the Apprenticeship bandwagon, I sometimes think that they view the qualification not only as a panacea for all the economic problems in the UK, but as a cure for world poverty as well.
So let’s put things into perspective. Of the nearly ½ million Apprenticeships started in the 2011/12, over 63% were at the basic “Intermediate” level. These qualifications require the learner to demonstrate competence in their job role, be fully aware of their Employment Rights & responsibilities (ERR), pass some tests in underpinning knowledge associated with their job and finally to obtain Functional Skills qualifications in Maths & English.
Intermediate (Level 2) Apprenticeships represent an ideal path for disengaged young people to rediscover the value of learning but let’s not kid ourselves that they are anything more than that. The idea expressed in some quarters that this training can be compared to an undergraduate university course is flawed and if we continue to promote this thesis, we are in danger of devaluing a university education. This country needs well-trained graduates just as much as it needs a workforce with acceptable levels of basic Maths and English skills.
We also need to remind ourselves that in 2011/12, 40% of people who started a Level 2 Apprenticeship were over 25 years old. Whilst I am a great believer in life-long learning, I question how many of these people would fall into the new definition of “Apprentice” as defined by Doug Richard in his excellent 2012 Review.
Of course it is perfectly possible for Apprentices to progress to Higher level qualifications which are more akin to the rigours of a university course, but in 2011/12 only 9000 people started on such courses – a mere 0.6% of the total number of Apprenticeship starts. I will return to the whole issue of falling Apprenticeship starts in my next blog.
Overall, I remain a huge supporter of Apprenticeships. However, I do think it is important that we keep the programme in perspective. I do not want Apprenticeships to be seen as second-class qualifications, but equally I want to see them promoted as an alternative to university and not an equivalent. There is a danger at the moment that we are blurring the lines between those two words.
Finally, I hope that the trend towards Higher and Advanced Level Apprenticeships continues. Level 2 Apprenticeships are a great way to get on the first rung of the ladder and we should celebrate them for that. But what we should really be doing is encouraging successful Apprentices to continue their journey up the ladder. Once we do that, even some of the politician’s fantasies about their value may come true!
Roger Francis is a Director with Creative Learning Partners Ltd, a new vocational training company formed by the senior managers and staff of MindLeaders Learning Services following the acquisition of the company by Skillsoft in 2012 and focusing on the delivery of Functional Skills