Tough times equals exploitation, so goes the theory. Are apprenticeships really a boost to young people's prospects and a good way for firms to spot talent, or just an opportunity to find cheap labour for unwanted jobs?
The sheer number of training and recruitment schemes out there means they all share some of this mixed reputation. But apprenticeships can be different, and different in ways which are critical to kick-starting business growth and as a genuine solution to social problems. Ongoing public understanding and support for apprenticeships and apprentices is important if they're to match their obvious potential.
For decades employers have talked negatively about what the UK education system delivers in terms of work-ready recruits. They then go on to talk about what really works best for them, the 'Grow Your Own' approach. It's never been the job of schools and universities solely to train young people for work, they have a much broader role and agenda in a society. But apprenticeships make the Grow Your Own philosophy a reality. Young people joining firms don't have to unlearn or re-learn, but can apply their learning as they go along and are moulded by their organisation.
Apprenticeships also involve a structured framework for that business sector, which means skills are all employer-led and so naturally meet specific demands. 80% of employers in a recent independent survey said they recognised that bringing in apprentices had led to productivity improvements. Getting tasks completed, drawing on the enthusiasm of recruits who are always learning, means businesses are less likely to get bogged down in the detail. More experienced staff can focus on the areas of innovation and new business development which are important for economic growth.
What matters for everyone involved in apprenticeships is that meaningful jobs are created, no stop-gaps, no superficial roles or just a temporary place to park our NEETs (not in education, employment or training). That involves finding the right fit for both sides. It sounds simple, but too often the basics aren't right, and that's the role of an organisation like Exemplas, providing a bespoke programme of screening and training. Candidates need to have the appropriate skills, have the right behaviours and attitudes from the start - and someone needs to be able to make this assessment. If the whole person package isn't right then more work needs to be done to get them there. There needs to be understanding of the actual business needs. What needs to be created is a basis for 'stickability' for people in jobs and so they stay in work and carry on up the skills escalator. It's estimated that apprentices will earn an additional £100k in salary over their career compared with their peers.
It's not acceptable that we have a million young people without work or sense of direction in the UK. Apprenticeships are a genuine and practical route to provide 16-18 year olds with the kind of structured employment and regular salary which builds self-esteem and a sense of recognition of their individual value. They can at least see where they're going and could end up. They also learn something which everyone in work could also benefit from, that school and college is just a preliminary, and training and re-training happens throughout a working life.
John Collier, Chief Executive, Exemplas, www.exemplas.com, email@example.com