Apprenticeships – what does the future hold?
So, we have a true blue Government this time and we are hoping it will see some continuity with Apprenticeships and Skills Training.
Trailblazer equals ‘Elite’?
However, the new Trailblazer Apprenticeships continue to have us deeply concerned on several levels. First and foremost, we believe they 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. It’s good for Britain that the likes of BT, Ford, Virgin, etc., are fully committed to Apprenticeships and the Trailblazer Apprenticeships suit them perfectly. However, we are trying to make one size fit all and this is where the danger lies.
Youngsters who achieve the 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 31 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!
Does one size fit all employers and all young people?
The Conservative Government prides itself on supporting small businesses in Britain. 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 (which, incidentally, is why the current apprenticeships do not suit the large employers!). The BT or the Ford Network Engineer apprentice will be part of a large team and will be released in blocks for training. 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 from early on in their training.
What about qualifications?
At the moment, ITEC is delivering CompTIA and Microsoft qualifications as part of the apprenticeship. The apprentice is achieving these qualifications plus a City & Guilds Diploma plus a City & Guilds Technical Certificate and an Apprenticeship Completion certificate. The Trailblazer Apprenticeship for a Network Engineer only offers one vendor qualification and the Apprenticeship Completion certificate. How can young people show prospective employers what they achieved on their apprenticeships?
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?
What about the funding?
It is true that the Trailblazer Apprenticeship funding is better than the current funding. But is this a good thing? In a bid to increase apprenticeship numbers, the SFA has been inviting commercial training providers to start offering apprenticeships on the new Trailblazer funding. This means that many national training providers have launched apprenticeship programmes and are delivering them to the commercial clients they were already dealing with. Yes, this is an increase in apprenticeship numbers but is it a real increase in jobs? Is it a real increase in training opportunities? Is it a real increase in qualifications? We don’t think so.
Our main fear is that the large employers and the national training providers will use up all the funding available long before smaller employers and smaller, local providers have access to it. The funding pot must be finite so how will the Government ensure it is fairly distributed?
Our proposed solution?
We believe there needs to be 2 systems.
The Trailblazers suit the large employers. There is far too much bureaucracy and ‘hoop-jumping’ in the current apprenticeships system for the large employer. They need streamlined training and streamlined funding so the new system meets their needs much more so than the current system. The over-arching Apprenticeship Completion certificate demonstrates they have completed their training and apprenticeship to the national standards in that occupation, e.g. a Network Engineer.
The current mechanism suits the smaller employers. Local training providers can access the funding and deal with all the bureaucracy the smaller employers just have not got time to deal with. The many options in the current apprenticeship framework give these employers choices when putting together a programme that meets the needs of their businesses and their apprentices. One size does not fit all and a specialised approach is needed with a variety of options available. The apprentices have access to several qualifications that helps them to build up a professional portfolio to take to prospective employers in the future and covers a variety of skills used in the apprenticeship, e.g. Help-desk operations, installation of hardware, installation of software, cabling, server administration, etc.