We're excited to have Euan Blair of White Hat writing for us about improvements in the structure and delivery of apprenticeships.
Creating better apprenticeships
As the founder of an apprenticeships business, I spend a significant part of my time trying to identify how we can get schools and employers to engage in a more meaningful way with the apprenticeships agenda. Undoubtedly, the introduction of the apprenticeship levy has made this task easier – whether they wanted to engage with apprenticeships or not, organisations up and down the country (including schools in their role as employers) have now been effectively forced into exploring this space.
There are some fantastic apprenticeships currently available, and in particular the rise of an increasing number of high-quality apprenticeships in growth industries, like tech or finance, is incredibly exciting. These are the areas WhiteHat is currently targeting, as a whole range of employers who had never previously explored taking on an apprentice are changing their recruitment practices to make them an integral part of their business. Unfortunately, more still needs to be done; the apprenticeship sector can be a hugely significant driver of social mobility, but it will only scratch the surface of this issue if it can’t do more to improve its brand.
There is no point in training organisations pressuring schools and employers to engage sufficiently with apprenticeships if we can’t get the basics right.
There are 3 things in particular the sector must focus on:
The apprenticeships being delivered must actually equip apprentices with skills employers need.
Unfortunately, one of the legacies of “Train to Gain” and an approach to government-funded training that prioritised scale over quality, is that less than 70% of people nationally complete their apprenticeship. Furthermore, far too many apprenticeships aren’t in sectors where a meaningful number of good quality jobs are available. Examples like the one from the Heseltine Review of 95,000 hairdressers being trained for 20,000 vacancies still hold true today. In areas like Digital Marketing, IT, Cyber Security, and Finance, there is a major skills shortage. And you can learn far more in a practical work environment in these industries than you ever could at university, because these areas require levels of specialist knowledge that is better learned working within a team of experienced professionals.
The sector must deliver on higher level and degree apprenticeships.
You can now get a BA or MA degree via an apprenticeship – not nearly enough is being made of this development and it has to be seen as a key part of future apprenticeships. Training organisations must equip themselves to deliver all the way up to degree level. The rigour needed to achieve these qualifications in a work environment is significant, and there are higher education institutions out there who will partner with providers to tailor their courses to match the needs of the workplace – WhiteHat are currently partnering with the University of Law in this area. For young people, instead of taking on £10,000s worth of debt, you will actually get paid to achieve your qualification and have a direct route into a career upon completion. This should be a hugely appealing proposition.
Teaching must be delivered by experienced professionals taken directly from the sector in which they are delivering.
The current shift from apprenticeship frameworks (narrow, didactic qualifications that suited a generic approach to delivery), to apprenticeship standards (flexible, employer-designed qualifications that match skills gaps), should be hugely supportive of this endeavour. Currently, too many assessors lack sufficient relevant experience to deliver a truly modern, work-based qualification. A particular concern is the number of assessors who are so far removed from the latest developments in their sector that they are ill-equipped to deal with crucial technological developments. Attracting top quality professionals to deliver apprenticeships is not straightforward, but a significant selling point will be the chance to teach university level qualifications, as will working with employers in a sector they know well to develop innovative content and delivery methods. This development could bring with it a new generation of outstanding teachers/assessors.
If you complete a higher level apprenticeship, your lifetime earnings will be greater than those of a student who has gone to a non-elite university
Solving the 3 barriers I’ve outlined above is not an insurmountable challenge, and it would go a long way towards addressing the current problems in the apprenticeship space. This project will take organisations that are prepared to invest significantly in their delivery and technology infrastructures, and crucially ones that are more focussed on meeting the needs of both learner and employer than their own.
And let’s be clear; apprenticeships right now are still a hugely viable career path. The statistics make this evident – according to a recent Sutton Trust report, if you complete a higher level apprenticeship, your lifetime earnings will be greater than those of a student who has gone to a non-elite university, while Skills Funding Agency data shows that seven in ten apprentices stay on with their employer after completing their apprenticeship. With higher apprenticeships already being offered by the likes KPMG, Barclays, and Fidelity, there are a number of fantastic and sustainable jobs on offer to young people who choose to take this route.
We are not starting from zero, but apprenticeships can be so much better. The onus is on the sector to build a product that schools, employers, parents, and students can all buy into.
Founder & CEO