Tuesday, 16 September 2014
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A week that should remind us that apprenticeships are for all

It’s National Apprenticeship Week in the UK, although it seems to have been more low-key than in previous years. Aimed at ‘increasing awareness, understanding and demand for apprentices’, the week has included apprenticeship fairs, networking events and awards ceremonies (congratulations to Georgina Oag, on an advanced engineering apprenticeship at the Manufacturing Technology Centre in Coventry, who has won Engineering Apprentice of the Year accolades from both Warwickshire College and  Coventry Freeman’s Guild), but there doesn’t seem to have been quite as much activity as in previous years.

apprentice

Double apprenticeship award winner Georgina Oag at the MTC

This might be because apprenticeships are currently in quite a good state in the UK. The major manufacturing and engineering companies all offer apprenticeship schemes which are routinely oversubscribed (it’s not unusual for us to hear of 60 applicants or more for every place) and nobody in the sector seems to doubt the value of apprenticeships: it’s regarded seemingly by all as just as valid a way for young people to start their career in engineering as the university route. Many apprenticeships include university content, and come with an option to take a degree-level quaification attached.

’Apprenticeship might be a venerable concept, but it is absolutely key to the future.

The picture isn’t universally rosy, of course. For example, a satellite communications company based in a well-off town in the south of England has difficulty recruiting apprentices from its local region; as a result, most of its apprentices come from elsewhere in the country and need to be found accommodation. And although the Jaguar Land Rovers, Rolls Royces and BAE Systems of this country can of course operate apprenticeship schemes with no difficulty, the situation is not the same for smaller and medium-sized companies (who, let’s not forget, make up the majority of the engineering and manufacturing sectors in the UK) who may find it not so easy to allocate resources and form connections with education institutions to run such programmes. Government help is available for SMEs – companies up to 1000 employees can claim £1500 per apprentice between 16 and 24, up to a total of 10 – but financially-pressed companies must still find it difficult. According to the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, only 18 per cent of manufacturing companies offer formal apprenticeships, although this is still ahead of all companies, for which the proportion is 13 per cent.

There’s also the simple matter of demographics. As we’re constantly told, the average age of engineers is going up, and the number of experienced engineers retiring is increasing every year. The whole essence of apprenticeships is that experienced practitioners pass on their skills to the upcoming generation, so we have to be aware that those older employees are a resource to be nurtured, as they’re just as vital as the young entrants.

So it’s possibly the case that the most important targets for National Apprenticeship Week are employers (particularly smaller ones), parents and teachers. The messages that apprenticeship is in no way a second-rate option, that it’s suitable for people of any and all backgrounds, and that it depends on experienced staff being available to take on the role of mentor, need to keep being pressed. Apprenticeship might be a venerable concept, but it is absolutely key to the future.


Readers' comments (4)

  • This morning the BBC sent a reporter into a company making controllers to talk to an apprentice. He singled out a pretty blonde girl who was extremely articulate and explained how she had decided that learning a mix of academic and practical skills was for her. She also pointed out that she was earning money and would not be saddled with a large debt. The reporter really annoyed me as he suggested that an apprentice was somehow an inferior way of obtaining further education and skills. This attitude seems to be instilled in youngsters by the incestuous teaching profession. The reason I know this is that not long ago I was asked by a local school to do a presentation on a career in manufacturing. When I arrived at the School, in my audience, I found the youngsters all had some form of learning difficulties for example Asperger’s syndrome. I am at a loss to know how we educate the educators and overcome the attitude that university is the first class education and anything else is inferior. The Line “It’s National Apprenticeship Week in the UK, although it seems to have been more low-key than in previous years” is worrying. The excellent technical college I went to slowly lost the practical facilities and moved to pure academia. Will the resurgence in apprenticeships go the same way because of teachers bias?

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  • One very significant area where apprenticeships do not seem to be succeding is connected with what we called 'craft apprenticeships'. I know of a number of companies who offer this type of training and yet have great difficulty in getting young people who can stay the course. Many of those who apply and take up such positions all too soon find the discipline of getting to work by 8.00am and knuckling under not to their liking and soon drop out. Where are we going to get the highly skilled fitters who actually make the machine, designed by those with 'good' degrees, to work. We have a serious problem looming if we do not overcome the reluctance of appilcants to accept the work ethic. From figures quoted to me there seem to be less than 20% who stay the course.

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  • Once again the 'popular?' meja rear their ridiculous heads over common sense. Such is the power within those who 'control' what the general population sees (and isn't power without responsibility the province of the harlot throughout history?) that -along with the cult of personality (aka Rupert Murdoch's take on what journalism ought to be) we have almost completely useless reporting. Thank goodness that our august organ (the Engineer) does not follow such a pattern (at least not often!)

    Apropos the need to find accommodation for apprentices moving to a different town to take up posts! I still bless Woods of Colchester and that lovely town, which took a public-school educated young man and in my year and as a student apprentice made him into a human being -showing him a real world of work (we started at 0700!) and the way that those at different points in society HAVE to work together for success. Worth just as much as the Engineering and factory skills I learned before University.

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  • @ Geoff
    A serious problem is looming. I believe we are producing a generation of young people without a work ethic, by offering them £2.60 per hour with an increase to minimum wage later. No wonder they are not inspired.

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