Whether you are a business owner or a training provider, the current buzzword flying towards all businesses across the country is the apprenticeship levy. But what is it? Why is there such an increased exposure to apprenticeships and frankly, what is an apprenticeship nowadays?
In the past few years, apprenticeships have come on leaps and bounds and have caused great confusion across employers of all sectors and sizes along the way. Since the fundamentals of apprenticeships, their delivery and criteria have changed dramatically. We’re going to explore whether or not the label ‘apprenticeship’ still means what it did and whether there was a missed opportunity to re-brand this method of training.
Traditionally, apprenticeships were seen as the alternative to continuing in full time education and were a way for school-leavers to gain on-the-job qualifications as well as frontline experience. In return, businesses we able to employ these young people at incredibly low rates of pay but as a young person leaving school, any wage was better than none at all and finally being part of the adult world of working meant you’d suddenly grown up.
However, all this has now changed. Many young people are discovering that they can essentially earn more of an ‘income’ through unemployment benefits as opposed to enrolling in an apprenticeship straight from school.
So, what is a ‘new’ apprenticeship? Here’s the confusing part! Apprenticeships can now be delivered to current employees, remaining on their current salaries and gaining further on-the-job experience and knowledge. Apprenticeships are work-based training programmes which are designed to help employers to train candidates for specific job roles. But is this not just an NVQ in disguise?
It’s easy to see the confusion for potential employers.
This resulting confusion has been heavily criticised too, including it becoming the subject of debate in the House of Commons. In this debate, more than eighty representatives from a range of further education establishments, including colleges and private training providers, discussed whether apprenticeships should be re-branded. They also openly discussed the flaws in the frameworks and the stigmas attached to an apprenticeship for employees who already hold experience in their field of work through many years of employment.
Apprenticeships are widely portrayed as the solution to young people not continuing in education, employment or training. However, how does this relate to the number of learners who are aged over 25 and actively participating in an apprenticeship programme? It simply doesn’t. We can be sure of this as the number of 16 – 24 years olds enrolling on the programmes is in decline.
Often, the term ‘apprenticeship’ refers to a less substantial method of training and this has a great impact on the public’s perceptions of the programme, negatively affecting the enrolment numbers and engagement of learners. Given that most apprenticeship programmes are at least 12 months in duration, the poor engagement and high drop-off rates can cause a huge range of issues for training providers who are trying to engage with these learners throughout the programme.
If a learner feels undervalued by being enrolled onto an apprenticeship, will they engage fully and will they remain with their current employers throughout the full term of the training? Is this going to cause additional complications for the employer if their staff decide to move on?
Now it’s time to ask, how could this change in approach have been handled differently? And ultimately, should modern apprenticeship schemes have been rebranded? We think they should have. When you look at apprenticeships as training programmes, and perhaps by blanking out the title, you will see just how these training techniques are so advantageous to employers and employees alike.
Whilst enrolling in full-time education or attending university is still seen as a more prestigious method of gaining qualifications, this simply isn’t true. When enrolling onto an apprenticeship, learners are able to apply their knowledge directly to on-the-job activities immediately after gaining this education. This gives them a greater ability to develop further and have a better understanding of how to apply their new knowledge and skills in practice, in a real working environment.
As part of an apprenticeship, the learner builds a portfolio of evidence to demonstrate how they have achieved their learning outcomes, which is a great tool to be able to reflect on upon completion. Learners are able to see how far they have come along their journey and can be motivated to move into higher education after this point. Apprenticeships no longer sit as the entry level qualification into employment and can be delivered through to degree level.
As tuition fees continue to rise, UCAS have published their findings which have demonstrated how this has affected the number of university applications. It is estimated that the average university graduate will leave their studies with a debt of up to £30,000! However, with the funding available for apprenticeship programmes, this is removed from the learner whilst allowing them to earn while they learn.
Many learners will remain with their employers past their completion of their apprenticeship but those who choose to move to alternative employment are also able to display a more attractive CV; not only have they gained relevant qualifications within their field of work, they are also able to display a positive work history and commitment to their chosen career path, further increasing their employability levels.
One of the fundamental benefits of an apprenticeship is the peer support that learners receive whilst they are learning and, of course, earning. Many businesses employ industry experts which learners will have access to being part of their team.
Unfortunately, we will have to accept the stigma and confusion around apprenticeships for a little longer, but it is clear that this method of training far outweighs its alternatives and with ITPs dedicating time and effort to educate their own staff on apprenticeships, employers can rest easy that experts are on hand to help make the most of their training matrix.