I was glad to hear the government's support of apprenticeships in George Osborne's Budget speech. Now, the administration and private enterprise need to come together to create incentives and programmes that result in real change in the British workforce.
Although public opinion still seems to hold higher education in greater regard than apprenticeships, evidence suggests this is partly due to the lack of information people receive. With careers advice website Notgoingtouni.co.uk finding that 76% of young people weren't informed during school about apprenticeships as alternatives to university, and that 54% said they would have gone the apprenticeship route if they did know about it, it's clear that a detailed map of each possible road to a fulfilling career is needed. Inform teenagers about jobs and schemes that they don't know exist - in-demand ones at that-- and they might just pursue them. I'd imagine research suggesting that apprentices earn around £150,000 more during their career than the average graduate, according to the Department for Higher Education, would be another strong source of motivation.
That map will also help counter missteps that Lucy Kellaway's recent FT column about British teenagers' dream jobs identifies. She observes (with plenty of tongue-in-cheek commentary) that a UK Commission for Employment and Skills report that British teenagers age 13-17 want to work in increasingly unemployable sectors sets up a dangerous fantasy. It's not the answers themselves she find dangerous, but the method: asking teens the question in the first place implies that a 'dream job' exists, rather than being honest with them about the not-so rose-tinted nature of reality.
When it implicates the health of the UK job market, Kellaway's belief in the "trial-and-error" approach is one that I share. By giving schemes like apprenticeships the resources they deserve, we'll be better able to avoid the disappointment gap in the many young people who enter adulthood dreaming of a job in a sector with rapidly diminishing prospects only to find they need to readjust their thinking. And the specific training or knowledge that's often required to do that can take substantial time and money.
That's why I encourage all small business owners to start thinking about establishing apprenticeships of their own, and about ways in which the government can help. The Department for Education and Department for Business Innovation and Skills's response to the Richard Review - a list of questions directed to employers about apprenticeships - is a good place to begin. They've initiated a conversation and it is to our advantage to enter it. If small businesses can help the government fast track the relationship between potential employees and the employers who need them, we'll all benefit.