What is the value of an apprenticeship?

Published in Business on 09 Feb 2012Earlier this week, David Cameron promised to make apprenticeships “a Gold Standard option” for young people entering the workplace, but what is the real value of this qualification?

The Government has ploughed £1.4 billion into improving the quality of vocational training, £250 million of which has gone directly to businesses to control skills training. Small businesses are also being offered £1,500 incentives to take on apprentices.

In the North East, apprenticeship scheme uptake has risen dramatically, from 18,510 in 2009/10 to 34,000 in 2010/11.

Nonetheless, there is still much speculation as to the true benefits of becoming an apprentice. Yes, in traditional industries such as engineering and manufacturing they are an integral part of the training process, but how can shorter schemes of a few months or weeks really be deemed apprenticeships?

Steve Grant, Managing Director of TTE on Teesside believes that to offer real value, apprenticeship training should have a minimum length of one year.

“Lots of employers want to take on individuals with hands on practical experience and the relevant theoretical knowledge, as well as the right work ethic – which isn’t something which can be taught overnight.” He commented.

“Short apprenticeships in an area like engineering just wouldn’t work as many of our students come straight from school and need to be taught the realities of the workplace.

“Shorter courses can dilute the currency of apprenticeships, which are one of the main sources of skills needed to drive the country forward.”

He is now calling on the Government to increase the status of apprenticeships within society, and is encouraging other professional organisations to consider the introduction of training schemes.

“We have anecdotal evidence that increasing numbers of young people are considering apprenticeships as a viable career option because they don’t want the debt of a university degree which doesn’t always guarantee a job at the end.

“Many businesses rely on the Government to subsidise schemes, but the now need to move to a place where employers treat them as a cost within the business and a way of keeping up with vital skills.”

TTE is not the only company in the region to actively encourage apprenticeships. The NECC, along with many of the regions further education colleges actively promote a wide range of schemes and invest heavily in both time and money to get more young people into the workplace. Despite the heavy promotion of apprenticeships, what the Government have failed to address is the wider skills shortage which is so prevalent in the region.

Helen Goodman MP believes that the Coalition are failing to address the problem.

She said: “Whilst I am pleased that there has been a rise in the number of apprentices in my constituency of Bishop Auckland and the North East in general, the region still suffers from a significant skills deficit.

“A recent Banardo’s report found that the government’s replacement scheme for EMA was inadequate and failed to provide young people with the financial support they require.

“It cannot be right for bright young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to be denied educational opportunities simply because they are poor. Financial assistance for our young people is vital to address the skills deficit.”

One solution to this problem could be the wider adoption of a scheme similar to the one at Sunderland College. The College has produced a survey for engineering firms to allow them to share their views on the skills and training which is relevant to the future needs of the industry.

Ken Hern, curriculum lead for engineering and science at Sunderland College said: “We are really looking to find out what the local community and employers really want.

“Semta will communicate what they are hearing from employers, as to what skills they need. But there’s some who don’t get heard, and we really want to get their opinions.

“There are skills that are perceived to be in demand, but we want to know who’s out there, and what do you need.”

While this is currently aimed at engineering firms, it is the type of scheme which could be expanded into a wide range of business sectors, and could be of real benefit to school leavers and job seekers. The North East unemployment figures are higher than any other part of the country, and by filling the skills gaps in the region, it could be of real benefit to the regional – and wider economy. It is encouraging that the Government is promoting apprenticeships as a truly viable career option, but there is much more to be done to create real and sustainable jobs in the region.

Paul Champion
07540 704920

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Twitter: @champouk

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