A record number of graduates entered the UK jobs market this autumn armed with much theory and knowledge of their chosen industries but not necessarily the practical experience to go with it. From what I can see, the need for apprenticeships has never been greater and I think the Government is starting to agree.
The recent launch of the Institute for Apprenticeships shows a collaboration between the Government and employers to make sure 'on the job' experience isn't lost but rather invested in. A recent study by the CIPD flagged the 'mismatch of skills' between education and the labour market, meaning increasing numbers of people are being educated to a higher level but many of them lack the skills employers need. Apprenticeships can help bridge this skills gap.
I know that apprenticeships are not a modern initiative and for many years have been a crucial part of practical professions for plumbers, electricians and builders for instance. Common sense tells us it's better to learn how to actually plumb a sink by practising doing it rather than knowing the theory but doing it for the first time when you arrive at your customer's house. And all industries are waking up to this notion.
There is so much evidence that apprenticeships work and some of our most famous names learned their craft through these schemes. Jamie Oliver has long extolled the merits of apprenticeships and how his experience of it inspired him to found The Fifteen Apprentice Programme. The iconic Alexander McQueen served an apprenticeship with Anderson & Sheppard on Savile Row at the start of his career and TV Household name Alan Titchmarsh was an apprentice at Ilkley Park, before becoming a writer and television gardener.
I've witnessed the success of programmes first-hand. Over the past four years I've had 11 apprentices join and thrive within my agency, learning skills that couldn't have been garnered from a book. Nearly all of them went on to join the company full time and or went on to successful careers in varied roles from Data Analytics to Project Management, Quality Assurance to Creative Technology.
It made me smile reading about the 40 richest apprentices. Of course not every apprentice will go onto become a millionaire footballer like David Beckham but they will definitely be given a chance to learn valuable, practical skills and, I believe, help business to grow a diverse workforce. That has certainly been my experience.
I'm a firm believer that people are not born ballet dancers or digital designers, they are trained, developed and moulded into the careers and professions and apprenticeships have a really important role to play. Practical experience and practising are part and parcel of getting better at what you do.
But apprenticeships should not be confused with interns. Interns of course have a place within businesses and can give a flavour of the job, but they cannot and do not replace a robust longer term training programme. Apprenticeships are arguably a much fairer exchange of knowledge and skills between employers and employee.
I know there are concerns from employers about the Apprenticeship Levy and whether this will discourage companies from offering programmes because of the additional cost implications. But finding talent and retaining talent is such a high priority for business leaders that I hope the Government carefully considers its impact.
While Sir Alan Sugar may well have unwittingly shone a light on apprentices through his annual series, we should remember that apprenticeships in the real world are aimed at a broad base of people, require passion, commitment and hard work. The best way for businesses to harness the talent of our young people is to keep investing in people so that people continue to choose, and invest in them.