With a range of headlines on falling numbers, a skills crisis, the levy and missed targets, it’s fair to say that apprenticeships haven’t had the best press in recent years. As apprenticeships again hit headlines recently (this time for more positive reasons), is it time for a re-evaluation of what apprenticeships can, should and do offer, and should more be done to shine a spotlight on the excellent work those in industry do to support apprenticeships?
With apprenticeships offering an invaluable path into work for many, it’s certainly something that Gary Riches (Head of Employer Services at Hartlepool College of Further Education) knows very well, having completed an apprenticeship in Electrical Engineering, before moving into Further Education.
Having moved into Project Management after completing his apprenticeship, Gary has full faith in the options an apprenticeship can provide and is full of praise for the opportunities that come as part of (and after completing) an apprenticeship, ‘It offers so many opportunities to young people. It’s a chance to ‘earn while you learn’ and offers progression to students from all backgrounds - from a Level 2 apprenticeship, right the way up to Level 7.’
But what about the role of the employer in ensuring that apprenticeships continue to be a viable route for young people of all backgrounds? With Gary’s role including responsibility for Apprenticeships, the Adult Education Budget, and the College’s Commercial provision, he is also keen to stress how apprenticeships also provide flexibility and high quality training for employers as well: ‘For the employer, it’s a chance to mould and shape someone to suit your organisational need. Also, in the right environment and with the right training, apprentices can bring ideas of their own to the existing workforce.’
With experience at all levels of the apprenticeship journey, Gary took his first steps back into education as an Engineering lecturer after several years in a Project Manager role. As living proof that the apprenticeship journey develops a range of skills, Gary then moved into a role as an Advanced Practitioner – working to develop teaching and learning college wide and supporting colleagues in a range of areas. It is this experience of going back into education that Gary feels marks apprenticeships out from other Post-16 routes, ‘It prepares young people for the reality of work. Not only that, but it allows them to thrive – we see students start out as novices, but with the right attitude and support, they become masters of their craft.’
And it is this flexibility for everyone involved that leads Gary to urge employers to become more involved with apprenticeships, ‘Not only does an apprenticeship allow young people to gather the knowledge, skill and behaviour required to thrive, but they are also good for business: it’s a chance to grow your organisation at a relatively low cost.’
But does Gary think some of the historical negative press around apprenticeships could impact potential future partners? Working with employers daily, Gary is fully aware of the impact apprentices can have on business and also how important businesses feel apprenticeships are, ‘Apprentices are good for business – the reforms are a welcome opportunity. At times, the administration can be complex, but it is a chance to show employers that an apprenticeship is a partnership. As a result, we’ve grown our apprenticeship provision year on year and we’re giving opportunities to young people of all backgrounds and experience.’
With apprenticeships continuing offer young people opportunities to get into the world of work and develop their skills, what can be done in future to make sure that the apprenticeship journey is as effective as possible? Gary feels the apprenticeship route should start much sooner: ‘More work definitely needs to be done in schools, to educate young people about the range of opportunities in the Post-16 landscape. Everyone knows about A Levels and university, and students are aware of Further Education college, but not enough students know about how simple it can be to apply for and succeed on apprenticeships, and that’s something we’ve got to change as an industry.’
As the cost of a degree hit £9,000 in fees alone, apprenticeships offer a dual financial reward: ‘All students are aware that the apprenticeship is an opportunity to earn while studying, but what gets less coverage is the apprenticeship is free – students aren’t gaining debt as they become more skilled and this adds a lot of freedom as they progress.’
With thousands of apprenticeship opportunities available, more and more young people will have the opportunity to develop their skills, gain a range of knowledge and become the masters of their generation. Add to this the greater awareness of the opportunity’s apprenticeships give and for apprenticeships, the future is bright.
Gary Riches is the Head of Employer Services at Hartlepool College of Further Education, and tweets at @RichesGary.
About the author
Jonny Kay is Head of English and maths at Tyne Coast College. He has previously worked as an English teacher and Head of Department in KS3/4 and tweets @jonnykayteacher. He also regularly blogs at www.thereflectiveteacher.co.uk.