Apprenticeships for the UK

Vocational Education Training (VET) can offer a first step on a debt-free pathway from “shop floor to top floor” as an alternative to a university based education or a prelude to one. To make this a reality certain changes have to be made to the present system regarding the content of the learning offering.

In addition it needs simplifying and a higher degree of standardisation to achieve the necessary scale, which in turn will make it more cost effective. These changes are of course primarily designed to make apprenticeships more desirable to youngsters as well as employers.

A lot of what is on offer at present can stay in place and form the basis of an upgraded Universal Apprenticeship model as an attractive and substantive first step on the ladder of a career for young people. Over time it should replace/absorb all NVQ 1-4, Intermediate, Advanced, Modern and Higher Apprenticeships. It would need high level political and business support together with a PR makeover.

Vocational should therefore mean that young persons’ differing talents – academic, artistic or practical – are recognised as equally useful. Accordingly, young people need to be offered corresponding pathways. Firstly, from school into the world of work and after a successful completion of the first step – a successfully completed apprenticeship – further career progression opportunities to fulfil their aspirations may they be in trades, crafts, technical, commercial or other occupations.

Education should mean that school leavers aged 16 to 19, by choosing an Apprenticeship are not just taught the ins and outs of a specific job in a narrow manner, but that they continue their education in general terms, too. Continuing with the ‘3 Rs’ and enhancing their social and communication skills sould be part of their further education. This will lay the necessary foundation to enable the person to move off “the shop floor” and reach “the top floor” of his chosen profession, whatever it may be.

This part must be the responsibility of vocational colleges, as it needs real teaching abilities. Of the total college based part of the apprenticeship, it should be around one third of the learning program, whilst the other two thirds are the theoretical part backing up the in-house company job specific training. College training should be largely standardised and span all sectors including trade, commercial and technical apprenticeships. This is how economies of scale and cost savings are achieved. Outsourcing this to the private sector is not ideal!

The largest part of the Apprenticeship, namely Training should be based on standardised frameworks of in-company/organisation learning. This should typically be over a period of around 2-3 years, for which the apprentice and employer enter into a training contract. Ideally the frameworks should give the apprentice as holistic an insight into their work environment as possible. This gives the employees more self-esteem, empowers them to work more autonomous with less supervision and ultimately more flexible, cost efficient and productive.

The apprenticeship training contract should be largely standardised and safeguarded by law.To complete an apprenticeship successfully there should be a recognised certification process, which has meaning and help to give the young professional a standing in society. A successfully completed apprenticeship should not be the end but the beginning of a career for those with aspirations.

The government in England has tried to standardise apprenticeships somewhat following our submission and differentiates now into intermediate (level 1 and 2), advanced (level 3) and higher apprenticeships (level 4-5). The latter, which is the basis for the SEMTA higher apprenticeship for engineering technology in our opinion goes too far in terms of an apprenticeship, but still lacks educational and commercial content. The intermediate apprenticeship hardly deserves the name. The advanced apprenticeship is the nearest to European standards. The attainment rates are shockingly low.

If London First want to promote a strong brand “apprenticeship” and sell this to employers and employees alike then it is essential that it has the same standards and meaning. In spite of the fact that the UK has decided to leave the UK, it is also important to ensure a coherent approach in line with other European countries. For instance German companies in the UK want to have similar training for their British and German apprentices for obvious reasons.

British youngsters deserve to be enabled to compete on a level playing field with their other European colleagues.

BB/April 2017 for London First Skills Commission


Author: Bob Bischof

German Robert (Bob) Bischof has lived and worked in Britain for 40 years. He is convinced that the two countries can gain much by learning from each other. Well-known for his outspoken comments on economic, political and industrial issues concerning Britain and Germany, he is a regular contributor to a range of newspapers and other publications, including the Financial Times and other national papers.

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