Apprenticeships and social mobility
I’ve mentioned previously I was in my formative career an apprentice, perhaps one of the last of the era of traditional apprenticeships.
Initiatives such as modern apprenticeships (with uncertain levels of learning content and short durations) in some minds has become devalued the model compared to academic pathways into careers. Further opening up apprenticeships to all age groups has changed the traditional view of an apprentice being an entry level role for a young person (although in reality for many this is still the image that comes to mind, even though it reality they are the minority of apprenticeship starts). We should remember that for many traditional trades in the past, the apprenticeship was the only passport to entering that occupation and they were highly prized. Many professional bodies such as the guilds and charters institutions were formed to ensure that professional standards were maintained in occupations.
The Government through its reforms have sought to again increase the prestige of apprenticeships to hold equal value to academic pathways and for the first time created pathways up to post graduate levels for apprenticeships. These reforms have not been without their critics, for example the loss of many qualifications that underpinned apprenticeships has been seen by many as counterproductive, as they confer some independent and transferable recognition of knowledge.
The parallel reform of the funding structure for apprenticeships has also has a profound effect on the take up. SMEs have been the traditional base for the majority of apprenticeships but due to the introduction of the apprenticeship levy this has changed substantially. Further the numbers of young apprenticeships have dropped in favour of retraining of existing staff, often at higher levels. OFSTED have highlighted the concerns of the reductions of young learners and L2 and 3, which has been the traditional means for young people to enter trades and occupations. Due to limits on resources, this has led to an at times unseemly tussle between the merits of more lower level apprenticeships compared to higher levels (not least that the providers are different between FE and HE). The reality is both are important, the key is clear pathways that people can progress in their careers as they develop and evolve. We need the opportunities for young people who may not have achieved good grades through their formative education to develop their vocational skills, but also the means to develop and re skill to meet future economic and technological requirements of business and society, this is true social mobility.
More than anything we need to value and promote the great potential of vocational learning through effective information, advice and guidance so we can help people maximise their potential and opportunities to meet employers needs now and in the future and ensure that resources are prioritised accordingly.
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