I have always been a huge supporter of the government's push towards apprenticeships. Over a period of 13 years, the previous Labour government completely neglected to take advantage of the potential of apprenticeships. With that in mind, I was pleased to see David Cameron and George Osborne's support for learning whilst you work when they first came to power in 2010.
However, 5 years later, is the government pushing too many people towards apprenticeships and are we soon going to hit a point where far too many people are avoiding university to go down the more practical path?
I'll start by saying that an apprenticeship is an absolutely fantastic choice if you can't see yourself comfortably sailing down the route of a traditional degree. Apprenticeships allow you to learn the skills of your industry whilst getting paid at the same time. Because of this, apprentices are able to support themselves and avoid thousands of pounds in student debt.
That being said, there's an issue in this. As apprenticeships become an even more attractive offer, we're slowly going to lose young people heading down that aforementioned traditional route. If apprenticeship numbers continue to grow at their current rate, we could see a point when there's more people in an apprenticeship than studying for a degree. Whilst an apprenticeship offers fantastic benefits for the individual, rising numbers will ultimately lead to the UK being a somewhat unqualified workforce and on the international stage that looks far from impressive.
This problem could quite easily be capped if apprenticeships were simply targeted at bespoke professions. However, it's becoming increasingly the case that we're seeing more and more apprenticeships with little value. For example, large coffee chains are now offering apprenticeships in their coffee shops. Are young people really going to learn from an apprenticeship in a coffee shop or is this just a way for said coffee shop to get their hands on some incredibly cheap labour?
Back in October, Ofsted stated that the expansion of apprenticeships is quite simply devaluing the brand of what apprenticeships are all about. I can certainly agree that apprenticeships in serving coffee are contributing towards this.
Furthermore, with more and more young people coming into an apprenticeship, there's fear that corners are being cut in terms of providing these young people with proper health and safety training. So much so that the Royal Society for Prevention of Accidents has called for greater safety training to be given to apprentices. It's sadly the case that more and more companies are seeing apprenticeships as a form of cheap labour and not a way to really give young people a great start in life through proper training.
In conclusion, the fact that George Osborne is pumping more and more money into earning whilst you learn shows that there's no sign of apprenticeships slowing down. However, I feel that we need to be incredibly careful when it comes to how many apprenticeships we create in the future and the direction of those apprenticeships.