The Future of Apprenticeships – what does it all mean?

Back in May 2015, I wrote a blog about “Trailblazer equals ‘Elite’?

I went on to say that the new Trailblazer Apprenticeships are in danger of becoming an elite programme.   That is, they will only be run by the large employers and these large employers will only recruit young people who make the grade, i.e. GCSE A-C grades (or the 9-6 grades under the revamped GCSE system!)    It’s good for Britain that the very large corporations are fully committed to Apprenticeships and these Trailblazer Apprenticeships suit them perfectly.  However, we are trying to make one size fit all and this is where the danger lies.

I just love it when I’m right but, following the Sunday Times supplement last week “The Guide to Elite Apprenticeships”, it seems that everything we were concerned about is starting to happen and sometimes I just wish I was wrong!   The supplement goes on to talk about Apprenticeship opportunities with the Bank of England and how employing Apprentices will become more popular than taking on a Graduate.

But does one size fit all?

Youngsters who achieve high grades will be able to apply to these large employers but what about those that don’t achieve all the grades? School and classrooms don’t suit everyone and, here at ITEC, our 32 years’ history clearly shows how well these learners achieve once they are in the workplace. Some young people thrive and blossom in a vocational setting – will the Apprenticeship door start to close for them?  We think it is in danger of doing just that!

Will the Trailblazer Apprenticeships be attractive to the smaller employers? We worry they will become disengaged due to the increased bureaucracy. The small employers will be signing up for an apprenticeship that has been designed for a job in a large employer, e.g. Network Engineer. While it is true a Network Engineer has to have all the skills and knowledge to cover networks, it’s not true that all Network Engineer jobs look the same.    The Trailblazer Apprenticeship is set up so that all Network Engineer’s jobs look the same.    A Network Engineer with BT is going to be a specialised engineer and is unlikely to be called on for anything else. The BT or the Ford Network Engineer apprentice will be part of a large team and will be released in blocks for training.

But, a Network Engineer with a small employer will be working on a network one minute, helping out on the help-desk in the next minute and, more than likely, repairing and installing PC’s in the next minute. Apprentices with the smaller employers will be multi-tasking almost from day one.  They will be part of a small team and will be relied upon quickly to ‘do’ the job.  Day release training can be organised but usually block release would place a hardship upon the rest of the team. Apprentices with the small employer are pulling their weight in their jobs from early on in their training.

Will apprenticeships still be predominantly for young people?

Here at ITEC we have been striving to make apprenticeships a real alternative to staying on at school, going to college or going to university. It is a good choice for young people who will thrive in a vocational setting. However, the Trailblazer Apprenticeships are being developed at levels 3 and 4 and have no age limits attached to them.  As long as it’s a new job or a new recruit, anyone of any age will be able to do an apprenticeship. What impact will this have on the availability of apprenticeships for school leavers? Will they still have a choice at 16-18 to come out of an academic setting into a vocational one?

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