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Apprentice approval

The UK has seen welcome growth and investment in apprenticeships with more than 450,000 new people signed up in 2010-11, up 63.5 per cent from the previous year.

With the demand for apprenticeships increasing from employers, there needs to be a steady flow of candidates. This is where schools need to change their attitudes and ensure that apprenticeships are mentioned as a viable alternative to university.

September 2012 will see major tuition fee rises applied by the country’s universities, which will likely lead to many potential undergraduates, and future engineers, considering alternatives to a degree.

A recent Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) event, which brought together representatives from the world of academia, training and business, heard from apprentices who revealed that university was encouraged as the best option for a student’s future by their schools. If they were not going to university, they were given little or no help regarding their future options.

“Apprenticeships equip young people with the practical and technical skills valued by employers

The new National Careers Service, launched at the beginning of April, has been welcomed by the IET. It is designed to give people better advice on getting a new job or changing careers altogether. However, with more than 2.5 million people out of work and the unemployment rate rising, the new service will likely have its work cut out.

It is essential that it provides information on vocational courses and apprenticeships as well as the more academic routes.

Apprenticeships equip young people with the key practical and technical skills that are valued by employers. Given the tough economic situation being faced by the engineering and technology sectors, apprenticeships really are a viable alternative to a traditional academic pathway.

At the IET we are committed to helping young engineers and technicians develop their careers and work towards professional registration, whether they are doing degrees or apprenticeships.

Working closely with industry and colleges, we accredit or approve and support a number of apprentice schemes. This means that we examine the content and depth of the qualifications delivered during the apprenticeship. We also look at the quality of the delivery; in other words, the support and work experience given to apprentices during the scheme that will lead to them qualifying as registered engineering technicians or ICT technicians.

Rebalancing the UK’s economy will require qualified, skilled engineers and technicians at all levels. Properly accredited and approved apprenticeship schemes provide a high-quality alternative to traditional academic routes for the country’s future workforce.

Maybe the most obvious benefit of apprenticeships is the reality that apprenticeships can provide participants with the knowledge and skills for an engineering career without having to embark on a university course, which could leave many saddled with debt and an uncertain future. The IET’s most recent skills survey showed that 38 per cent of employers said they expected to employ more apprentices over the next five years. Industry values the combination of work-and knowledge-based learning that apprenticeships can deliver. They produce technicians and engineers with a wide range of experience, both technical and business.

Properly accredited apprenticeship schemes offer apprentices many benefits, including streamlined engineering technician application processes, which will equip them with an internationally recognised engineering qualification.

It is widely recognised that the general public has a very poor perception of engineering and in particular industry. There are many things that the government, colleges, employers and the profession can do to help change this. One is to ensure that engineering is not seen as a dead end - starting an apprenticeship should be seen as the first step into a exciting world with a myriad of opportunities, with clear progression routes from apprentice through to chartered engineer.

We need to promote the fact that apprenticeships provide one route to professional qualifications and university. For example, engineering apprenticeships are being developed that can take a learner up to level six (bachelors level) that include a BEng degree and IEng registration.

While it is concerning that, according to recent reports, some apprenticeship providers have chosen to manipulate the funding situation for their own means, this must not detract from the value of apprenticeships to young people and the wider economy.

The government must not play a ‘numbers game’ but must seek to produce the fully qualified technicians that the UK so desperately needs for the future.

Paul Davies, Head of policy, Institution of Engineering and Technology

Readers' comments (17)

  • Re Charles Beecham`s comment, Young engineers are entitled to the same non industry training as any other sector of employment. An apprenticeship does not deliver 5 years of relevant experience, it provides a continuation of learning within a related sector. It is the employer who provides the relevant experience and the individual who must go out and get it by proving he is worth a try.

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  • Back in the late seventies I completed a formal 4 1/2 year "Engineering Technicians" aprenticeship with a world leader of Mass Transit Rail Systems here in the UK.
    Soon after completing, due to a fall in orders I was made redundant. Nearly 2 years followed trying to find suitable employment to match my skills and qualifications, but apart from a Sales job with a non-ferrous metal stockholder, lack of experience was usually cited as the reason for being unable to offer me a position.
    Fortunately, an overseas company saw the benefit of my youth and training so off I went as an immigrant in a new country, on a 3 month trial basis (that was 30 years ago!)
    2 things,
    First: an apprenticeship doesn't guarantee a job afterwards and
    Second: what a shame that UK companies were too short sighted to see the benefit of a small amount of experience but large amount of relevant qualifications, and so the international "competition"once again gained from British short-sightedness.

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  • The artical seems to refer that apprenticships are an alternative to a university degree. University students may be academic however do not have practicle and problem solving skills required in Industry.

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  • I think that many of the comments on this thread have 'reverse snobbery' about the value of a degree.

    A student who comes out of University with a good Degree should not be overlooked becase they lack "experience". I have seen both sides of the coin in the firm where I work. Yes, some students are poor, as are some apprentices.

    We're not talking about individuals here. On the whole, however, someone degree educated has better problem solving skills can think on thier own and can lead better (becoming future managers).

    I agree more apprenticeships are needed, and that University isn't for everyone, but that doesn't mean that a qualified degree-educated student isn't required in an engineering firm.

    The question/answer is balance.

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  • Im 19 and am coming to the end of my first year as an apprentice technician/engineer.
    I have 4 a levels in non engineering subjects and a physics a level also.
    At school and college, apprenticeships were never mentioned, we were encouraged to go to university and "have fun and not worry about getting a job" I still want to gain a degree, but one in an engineering subject after completing my HNC/D. I do not believe that doing an engineering degree alone is enough to make you an engineer. I work for a car parts giant and all engineers are time served and have completed degrees later on. I am hoping my experience gained from the apprenticeship and also college qualifications will give me the full package to become an engineer. Can university alone educated engineers even wire a plug or produce a component on a lathe? I doubt some of them can, to me, a true engineer is someone who has skills they can backup with knowledge; and that's what I aim to achieve in the next 4 years.

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  • I went straight to university after A-levels and got my MEng. Apart from a few weeks working in a garage before uni to try and glean some practical experience (I studied Automotive Engineering), I didn't know one end of a spanner from another. After my degree I landed a job on a Graduate Training Scheme for an engine manufacturing company.

    It was on this scheme that I realised how little I knew, in terms of the practical application of engineering - in the office as well with on the shop floor, and how grateful I was for a structured graduate scheme to teach me how to apply my theory and be an engineer.

    I worked for some degree-educated people who were great, and I worked with some non-degree-educated people, who were also great. One in particular whipped me into shape for several years after graduating!

    At first I felt quite exposed, given my lack of hands-on experience, but in more recent years I have become more comfortable with knowing where my real strengths lie. What I have found to be important is how you interact with other people - I always respected that the technicians I worked with were far more skilled than I in their jobs, and I would listen to their ideas and suggestions. Similarly, I found they respected my opinions & explanations for the results our test work was delivering and trusted my judgement. I believe this made for good working relationships and a productive working environment.

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  • "This is where schools need to change their attitudes and ensure that apprenticeships are mentioned as a viable alternative to university"

    Why should an apprenticeship be seen as an alternative to a degree? and why is it so important to go to University straight after finishing school?

    With hindsight I know I would have benefited far more from my degree if I had taken an apprenticeship and been working in engineering for a few years first, plus I could have taken my degree part time, so I wouldn't have had any debts.

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