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It’s time to take apprenticeships seriously

Sylvia King, Senior Education Lead SSAT, writes…

Your former students who have become apprentices will have the most beneficial influence on your current students

It is often said that you should never work with children or animals (perhaps a little difficult as a teacher). At last week’s SSAT Annual Lecture there was proof that a good time to stand back and let young people do the talking is when discussing apprenticeships. Two remarkable apprentices took the floor and enthused the audience with their stories.

The message is clear from employers, government and apprentices themselves that taking an apprenticeship is a real alternative to higher education for today’s school leavers. In spite of this the apprenticeship route is often seen as the Cinderella pathway for progression.

Indeed Theo Paphitis, entrepreneur and former Dragons’ Den star, was quoted in Friday’s Daily Telegraph as saying that young people have been ‘mis-sold’ a degree as the route to success.

The record numbers of young people now heading to university are mistakenly expecting a career to fall into place on graduation, many education and business professionals believe.

Both our apprentice speakers spoke of how difficult it was to convince parents and teachers of the real merits of developing their careers in this way. It is time that we took the apprenticeship route more seriously and stopped regarding a university place as the ultimate prize.

Understand what an apprenticeship is and the various forms they can take

The starting point is probably to understand what an apprenticeship is and the various forms they can take. Put simply, an apprenticeship combines practical training in a job with study.

Young woman cabinet making.Young people will work alongside experienced staff, gain job-specific skills, study towards a related qualification (usually one day a week) while earning a wage. Apprenticeships take 1 to 4 years to complete depending on their level.

There are three levels and they have direct equivalences to academic qualifications. intermediate (5 GCSE passes), advanced (2 A-level passes) and higher (NVQ Level 4 and above, or a foundation degree).

Apprenticeships are available in a wide range of employment sectors from arts to engineering: and at the higher level they are recruiting some of the top-performing students.

Of course, apprenticeships won’t be for everyone. But for a growing number of students the option of earning while they learn, rather than accumulating student debt, will be attractive.

For many it may be the only way that we can encourage them to continue with their education and training.

Growing numbers of employers are valuing and promoting the apprentice route. They recognise the benefits of ‘growing their own’ workforce and ensuring that employees not only have the right knowledge but also the skills to be effective in their particular context.

Schools need to ensure that students and parents not only know about apprenticeships but also understand the way that they work and what they might gain from them.

Increasingly, employers are seeing the value of ‘growing their own’ workforce in this way

There are lots of useful websites about apprenticeships and how to apply for them, is probably the most comprehensive. However, experience has shown that the best ambassadors for apprenticeships are the apprentices themselves.

It is really worth taking the time to arrange for some real, current apprentices to come in and talk to your students. Even better if they are previous students who have a similar background and experience to your students. If not, approach local employers who are training apprentices, apprentices are very enthusiastic about their work and the training and support they receive.

Take the time to arrange for current apprentices – ideally, alumni from your own school – to come in and talk to your students

Equally, it will be important to talk to parents about the merits of apprenticeships. Many parents think that the only way for their children to succeed is through the higher education route.

They are unaware of the fact that most higher apprenticeships lead to a degree or an equivalent professional qualification and may give a better chance for appropriate employment.

Indeed a Sutton Trust report on Friday week showed that apprentices with a level 5 qualification earn £50,000 more in their lifetime than someone with an undergraduate degree from a university outside of the Russell Group.

Your school will find it useful to become familiar with local employers that offer and support apprentices. (A quick search on the apprenticeships website found 65 opportunities in my local area. Many were with national companies offering Level 3 and Level 4 qualifications with opportunities for progression.) Target these companies and get them to share their expertise with your students and their parents.

A clear destination and aspiration is the best motivation for success

Giving your students the full range of choices as they make decisions about their future will give them the best opportunity to make the right decisions for themselves. An added bonus is that a clear destination and aspiration is the best motivation for success in education.

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Follow Sylvia on Twitter: @Sylversays

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