There has been a lot of news today (22/10/15) about apprenticeships potentially becoming devalued. OFSTED is particularly concerned that the drive to create 3 million new apprenticeships is leading to many poor quality courses and training that doesn’t deliver the right skills.
That may be so in some sectors, but it is important not to tar all apprenticeships with the same brush. Engineering and manufacturing firms urgently need of fresh new workers who can take UK industry into the future. Estimates vary, but bodies such as the Royal Academy of Engineering predict the need for up to a million new engineers and technicians within the next five years, and apprenticeships are able to play a hugely important role in responding to this need.
So what can be said about the key concerns currently surrounding apprentice programmes?
“Vocational qualifications are worth less than academic ones”
Apprenticeships in engineering, manufacturing and applied science actually combine real practical skills with a high level of academic training, such as HNCs. These academic elements are no pushover, and studying whilst working actually is much harder than going to university full time, so full credit should be given to apprentices who take this on. Of course there is a reward for making this choice – they end up with valuable skills and qualifications without carrying a large student debt.
“Apprenticeships are used as low wage labour”
Industrial firms often run complex processes, machines, laboratories and facilities, all of which require highly skilled personnel to operate. Industry typically pays apprentices well, given the importance of attracting the right calibre candidates into engineering and science technician roles. Moreover, with their skills in demand, these apprentices have good long term prospects for pay growth.
“Employers aren’t getting the skills they require”
This might be the case if colleges and training providers are only interested in delivering the minimum standards to achieve the apprenticeship qualification, rather than serving the needs of the employers they work with. However, the history of apprenticeships stems from the traditional “Crafts Guilds” dating back centuries, which were formed to protect the quality standards of particular trades. Today, close collaboration between the training provider and industrial employers can ensure that the right skills are delivered to the highest standards – this is not only essential for industry to prosper, it’s also fairer to the individuals who sign up to become apprentices.
So it’s easy to talk about apprenticeships as a whole, but media headlines and OFSTED may give an unfair impression about how well apprenticeships can work in engineering, manufacturing and science based industries.