Friday, October 28, 2011

When apprenticeships go bad (7 fails)

When I was growing up in Scotland I knew lots of people on ‘apprenticeships’. My uncle, adopted by our family at 16 (we shared a room), became an apprentice joiner, and went on to work all over the world in Africa and the Far East, eventually becoming a Director in the Local Authority. It served him well. But the whole system was dismantled by both Labour and the Tories, one seeing it as second-best, the other killing it off as part of the free labour market. Big mistake.

I have some sympathy, however, with the current government’s attempt to bring them back. With £1.4 billion of funding in 2011-12 it should have some impact. But ask yourself a few questions. Do you really know what a modern apprenticeship is? How long does it last? Can you name the politician in charge? Can you name the Minister in charge? Do you know what government department is responsible? This shows the  myriad of problems, here's just seven of the 'fails'

1. Brandless
What is an apprenticeship? Well, it’s been widened and diluted so much that it’s hard to tell. A qualification needs to be a brand that employers trust. If you simply rebadge short-term, low-level training as an apprenticeship, you do untold damage.
2. Lack of leadership
Ever heard of the National Apprenticeship Service? No? Hardly surprising. The problem is that it falls between two stools, the Department of Education, who are too obsessed with schools and HE to manage it properly and BIS, who don’t have the skills (sic) to manage the process.
3. Wrong people
Only 7% of the recent increase was in 16-18 year olds, the target audience for traditional apprenticeships. This is shocking, and a con. The reason is that most apprenticeships are being mopped up by older people in employment.
4. Wrong level
Apprenticeships are meant to be a clear route to picking up a craft, making you employable. But when they’re stuck at shorter Level 2 apprenticeships, they’re little more than mop up exercise for bad schooling. The recent announcement on increased numbers are really just low level placements.
5. Lack of quality
Believe me, there will be sizeable fraud and lack of quality in apprenticeships as employers see it as a shortcut to increased profitability and government lack the wherewithal to oversee the process. In its modern reincarnation, it covers too many levels and is still mired in an old mix of largely discredited qualifications such as BTEC.
6. Cheats
Employers have spotted the weakness. Take your older, low-paid workers, switch them to apprenticeships and draw down the funding. Supermarkets, like Morrisons, have been shelf-stacking apprenticeships like crazy, with 18,000 people over 25 atLevel 2, almost every single one an existing employee. Impact on youth unemployment – zero.
7. Really part of the benefits system
We have an opportunity here to create a vocational qualification that has a trusted, quality brand, led by a known organisation and targeted at young people at the right level. This should be part of or national growth strategy, instead it’s turning into a minor arm of the benefits system, a half-baked YOP scheme, without the Y.

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