Solving the apprenticeship perception problem


http://www.fenews.co.uk/fe-news/solving-the-apprenticeship-perception-problem

So according to the recent Demos Commission on Apprenticeships research it appears that everyone loves apprenticeships. Except they don’t when it comes to their own children. As one of the commissioners on the cross-party think-tank, I was disheartened but not surprised by these findings.

Every time we’ve polled parents about apprenticeships they are seen as a good thing in an abstract sense but when it comes to discussing specific options for their own children, A-Levels as a route to university still take the lead. While this attitude is understandable given the bias towards academic learning that continues in this country, it’s a shame that parents still think a university education is the best guarantee of a job.

Whilst there are degrees that are essential in preparing someone for a specific career such as medicine, there are many others that do little to guarantee employment because they don’t have such a clear-cut pathway to a career and competition for graduate positions is fierce. In these cases, an apprenticeship could be a much better bet for someone wanting to learn the skills they need to get a decent job, particularly when you factor in the debt that today’s university graduates are often saddled with.

On the face of it then the benefits of an apprenticeship, and other vocational routes, are clear and while it’s not a case of one option being better than the other, academic and vocational routes into employment should be equally considered by young people. However, despite a general understanding that apprenticeships are a good thing, this message isn’t getting through where it’s needed.

One of the problems that came up in the commission’s research and that we’ve seen at City & Guilds, is the lack of advice for someone wanting to take an apprenticeship. Teachers are being asked to double as careers advisers and as the vast majority followed an academic route into teaching it makes it difficult for them to give informed advice about the other options available. Putting dedicated careers advisers into schools would go some way towards providing non-biased advice about all the routes into employment.

However the bigger issue for me is the difficulty of finding an apprenticeship if you want one. The well-trodden path from school to university is easy to understand and achievable with the right grades. Securing an apprenticeship on the other hand is less certain as, just like any job, you aren’t guaranteed to get one if you apply. There’s also a big gamble to be had in terms of the quality of an apprenticeship. There are obviously some highly-regarded well-known schemes at companies such as BT or BAE Systems but if you’re taking an apprenticeship somewhere less well-known you’re starting on almost as a leap of faith. At 16 this can be a scary choice to make when the academic alternative is so clear cut and particularly when parents and teachers are urging you down the university route.

One of the areas for change recommended by the commission is improving employer engagement within schools, something that I talk about constantly. From talking to young people we know how much they value that direct contact with employers when making choices and how essential it is towards helping them get a job. It’s always easy to point to the celebrity vocational success stories such as Richard Branson or Jamie Oliver but what’s needed is an army of career mentors on the ground who can help young people understand the different routes into employment and also the skills they will need to pick up along the way to make them employable. There has to be a much greater employer presence in schools to help remind teachers, parents and young people of the relevance and importance of vocational routes into work.

All the major political parties are promising new apprenticeships left right and centre at the moment but, to create a truly great system for the future, discussions need to be about how they will increase quality not just quantity. We also need them to consider how they will encourage businesses to take on apprentices in the first place and to make them attractive to young people. As the Commission’s research highlighted and we in FE already know, the benefits of good apprenticeship programmes are clear – from increased productivity for businesses through to improved earning power and workplace skills for those entering employment. Yet none of these benefits will be realised if the route into apprenticeships is not made clearer and more attractive for everyone.

We need to shift the perception of vocational education using professional careers advisers to fully explain the benefits of high quality apprenticeship programmes. It would also help if there were more people in government who have got there by following an alternative educational pathway and understand what high-quality vocational education looks like. Unless we do this, parents and influencers will remain unconvinced of the suitability of apprenticeships and vocational education will never be able to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with academia as a viable route to career success.

Kirstie Donnelly is UK managing director of training body City & Guilds Group

This entry was posted in FE News by Paul Champion. Bookmark the permalink.

About Paul Champion

Some have called me a leader, and a entrepreneur, they say I have integrity, presence and skills to ensure continuous improvement and success in whatever challenges I face. They also tell me that I am positive, resilient and motivating. I say, I'm just a normaI guy from Gateshead in the North of England, who started as an apprentice engineer. I have been in the right place at the right time and in the wrong place at the wrong time! I have successfully initiated and led complex organizations and situations to completion and success, and I have been in some jobs where success seemed untouchable. Mainly though, I have tried to learn everyday, help people to progress and learn the skills they need to be successful. I have had the privilege of working with some great people locally across the UK and more recently internationally in Asia, Europe and now USA, where I am lucky enough to work for www.3aaa.co.uk where I am head of 3aaa USA. This website is just me having an outlet to talk about all those thoughts, ideas and things I learn that pass through my head every day when I face the challenge of doing business. I will also rant on about how great apprenticeships are, and how you can help change peoples lives through them. After all thats how I got to do the great things that I have done, and also I am still an apprentice everyday! All I ask is that if you find it interesting then leave a comment and share what you read. THANK YOU.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s