Are apprenticeships back in fashion?

Apprenticeships have risen up the learning and development (L&D) agenda since the Leitch Review of skills highlighted the important role the schemes play in the training landscape and the wider economy.

Published in December, the report advocated more emphasis on apprenticeships as a valuable way for employers to get the intermediate skills they need and recommended that the number of apprentices in the UK should be almost doubled to 500,000 by 2020.

Certainly, more young people are aware of the advantages apprenticeships offer, says Stephen Gardner, director of work-based learning at the Learning and Skills Council (LSC).

He says the prospect of high levels of student debt for those entering higher education and the growing popularity of vocational education means more young people are considering apprenticeships.

“Young people are recognising the advantages of getting paid while they learn,” he says.

Currently, employers are obliged to pay apprentices a minimum of £80 a week, although the average is nearer £130. In return employers taking on apprentices between the ages of 16 and 18will have all their training costs funded by the government. Those with apprentices over 19 qualify for a 50% refund.

No age limit

Until recently, the age cut-off point for apprentices was 25,but as a first step towards encouraging more schemes,the government this year removed the age limit and made an extra £25mavailable to fund training for older apprentices.

Gardner says the scrapping of the age cap may attract women returnees, workers from minority ethnic communities and those retraining after redundancy.According to the LSC, 59% of apprentices stay the course and qualify.

Astandard scheme requires apprentices to obtain key skills including literacy and numeracy, a technical certificate in their particular expertise, and an NVQ qualification based on on-the-job assessments.

Advanced apprenticeships, where the candidates work towards degrees and HNDs together with higher-level NVQs,are also available.

The duration of apprenticeship schemes vary greatly. They can take between 15 and 42 months to complete depending on the skill and sector – schemes in areas such as construction and engineering tend to be longer – and an individual’s ability to work through the scheme.

“The notion of a standard time served went out a while ago,” says Gardner.

However, outdated perceptions of what kinds of apprenticeship are available is one factor that has hampered the take-up of schemes in recent times, according to Peter Marples, group business development director at vocational training company the Carter and Carter Group.

While many people may still associate apprenticeships with the manufacturing or engineering sectors, there are more than 200 types of apprenticeship schemes available in more than 80 sectors of industry and commerce.

Carter and Carter, for example offers schemes for the accounting, health and social care sectors and even has a contract with the Premier League, which puts all its young footballers through an apprenticeship in sporting excellence.

Training 15,000 apprentices per year through a blended approach, the company is the largest provider of apprenticeship development in the UK.

Marples says an increasingnumber of large employers are using the company as single provider to deliver apprenticeships nationwide. This allows them to design a bespoke programme.

Car manufacturer VW Audi, for example, asked Carter and Carter to incorporate a Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme into their apprenticeship programme as part of a commitment to embrace community projects.

“These are modern developments, but developing skills in the workplace has a rich tradition, which must be maintained if the UK is to stay competitive,” says Marples.

Case study: Kesslers International

As one of London’s largest manufacturing businesses Kesslers International includes about 15 apprentices among it 270 workers.

For the company, which specialises in the design and manufacture of point-of-purchase display units for major brands such as Christian Dior, Swatch and Tesco, they represent the future of the company.

“Finding young people with the right plastics processing skills is a real business problem,” says joint managing director George Kesslers.

“Many of our skilled workers are ageing and we need people who are up-to-date with the latest technologies if we are to compete with our competitors in Germany and France.”

Without an in-house L&D department, Kesslers says, apprenticeships offer a training provider and a framework from which to bring on the next generation. “They are the answer to a maiden’s prayer,” he says.

He does, however, feel more work is required on the advanced apprenticeships schemes. He says he would like to take more apprentices at this level but complains there is a dearth of part-time and day release courses in his subject at local universities.

“You get the impression the Learning and Skills Council and the Higher Education Funding Council don’t talk to each other,” says Kesslers.

Find out more

Employers can call 08000 150 400 to receive a free employer’s pack or contact their local Learning and Skills Council office or local learning provider for more information on what is available locally. The learning provider can help employers recruit a suitable apprentice and provide support through the training process.

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