You're hired! Who wants to be an apprentice?Sunday 23 October, 12.00 - 13.00 , Pit Theatre Battle for the Economy
Britain’s got talent and the EU knows it even if we don’t. In 2013, Angela Merkel’s government launched a £120 million project to lure the brightest youngsters to Germany to become apprentices. Before the Brexit vote, Remainers were warning that 50,000 apprenticeships were at risk, and in its wake, the Conservative government’s target of three million apprenticeships by 2020 is said to be in doubt. Nevertheless, ‘apprenticeships, apprenticeships, apprenticeships’ remains the new vocational education mantra. But despite the hype about apprenticeships from government, business and training organisations, young people seem unsure about them. Too many poor quality vocational qualifications have been labelled ‘apprenticeships’, sowing the seeds of suspicion whenever the A word is mentioned.
Of course, the idea of apprenticeships is to equip the workforce with the skills and knowledge required to undertake skilled work and contribute to the economy. For almost five hundred years, since the Statute of Artificers of 1563, apprenticeships were the dominant form of training for skilled workers in Britain. But these apprenticeships were seven years long and run by craftsmen who worked in real trades - not the merely year-long ‘apprenticeships’ that are common in industry and the public services in the UK today. Some major companies now believe the way forward is to run their own apprenticeships based on world-class standards. But the lesson learned from countries with well-functioning apprenticeship systems, such as Germany, Denmark and Switzerland is that would-be apprentices need to have a good level of prior educational attainment, while successful schemes also depend on competitive salary structures and a culture that values and supports apprenticeships. Only then can employers and training organisations start to think about training skilled experts in their occupational area.
Out of the EU, the UK will have to get to grips with what it really means to train the skilled workers needed to drive forward a more productive economy. But do employers or the government really know what makes a ‘world-class’ apprenticeship?
head of new business, Pera Training Ltd
director, British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA)
acting director general, British Chambers of Commerce
programme leader, education studies, College of Education, University of Derby
actuary; founder, First Actuarial