There are currently around a million people doing Apprenticeships in England and Wales, and about one in seven of the current workforce is either doing one or has done one as part of their training, but how effective are apprenticeships today?
If it is possible to generalised, what are the strengths and limitations of modern apprenticeships?
Strengths of Apprenticeships
This 2021 government report on apprenticeships points to the fact that standards of apprenticeships have risen in recent years, with a new minimum length of training being one year, the increasing number of advanced apprenticeships, and more rigorous monitoring.
The public sector is also now heavily involved with apprenticeship training and there is a commitment to ensuring apprenticeships are supporting diversity and social mobility.
Being able to meet increasing demand in a cost effective way. Apprentices can help to boos productivity.
Increasing diversity of skills and challenging set ways of thinking – apprentices with new skills and fresh ways of looking at things can establish new innovative ways of working and challenge the status quo in a company, keeping it dynamic.
Being able to mould future leaders of a company – some employers like taking on young apprentices especially as they can train them appropriately over a series of months and years to go into management positions.
For many employers taking on new apprentices is going to for a key strategy of rebuilding after the pandemic. Apprenticeships are well suited to helping both businesses and individuals recruit and retrain after the disruption caused due the government imposed restrictions on work during the Pandemic.
Limitations of Apprenticeships
Some recent research by the London School of Economics suggests that apprenticeships are stalling –– the increasing of the minimum training time to one year is possibly linked to this, interestingly, the introduction of the Levy on employers in 2017 doesn’t seem to be correlated.
There has also been a shift towards apprenticeships being directed more towards the over 25s and away from the more disadvantaged, as the number of higher apprenticeships has increased compared to intermediate.
The report also notes that not all of the available funding (from the Levy) is used.
Some apprenticeships were also disproportionately affected by the government’s chosen response to the recent Pandemic – most notably those related to travel and hospitality, although that’s not a criticism of apprenticeships themselves as such, just something to be aware of! (some apprenticeships can’t work effectively when there’s a government imposed lockdown going on!
Vocational eduacation in Britain today is complex – involving a range or qualifications from GCSEs, BTECs, City and Guids, T levels and higher degree level qualifications and a range of providers – from schools to apprenticeships provided mainly by employers
The Vocational Education landscape in Britain today is very complex: there are number of different types and levels of vocational qualifications, and over 130 different awarding bodies.
This complexity is because there are several different institutions involved with delivering vocational education and awarding qualifications – from schools to employers in many different sectors.
Schools – who provide 14-16 Vocational Qualifications
Further Education Colleges – who mainly provide 16-19 vocational qualifications such as BTECs and City and Guilds qualifications.
Universities – who provide Degree level Higher Technical Qualifications (some FE colleges will also provide these)
Employers – who provide a range of different apprenticeships
Private training providers – who will provide a range of any post-16 qualification.
The report notes that today there are flexible pathways available to learners so that they may move between academic, vocational/professional and apprenticeship routes.
14-16 Vocational GCSEs
These don’t seem to be very popular. This report notes that only 33000 students started a vocational GCSE compared to 565000 who started maths, in 2016-17
16-19 Vocational qualifications
The main types of 16-19 vocational qualifications are either level 2 or level 3 BTECs and City and Guilds qualifications. You can explore the later by visiting the City and Guilds web site, which also has information about apprenticeships.
These are new technical A-levels to be introduced from September 2020 – they are two year courses designed to be the equivalent of 3 A Levels.
They involve at least 45 days of work experience and have been designed to provide students with a direct pathway into skilled employment
They are available in a number of different subject/ employment areas including:
education and childcare
media, broadcast and production.
In 2018-19 there were almost 750 000 people in Apprenticeships, with the numbers of apprenticeship starts in recent years falling from 500 000 a year to 350 000 a year today.
There has been a lack of a clear, long term vision and strategy about what direction vocational education should take.
There has been insufficient funding, not helped by funding cuts to the post-16 sector since 2010.
There’s been poor employer engagement in training provision.
There is a fragmented system of delivery – with some students getting very high quality vocational education, but too many getting sub-standard training.
The majority of parents still hold academic qualifications in more esteem than vocational qualifications
Another recent report from 2018 which compares vocational education in Britain with that in France and Germany notes that:
The British education system values academic qualifications more and focuses its resources on nurturing the academically most able, vocational education is seen as inferior and gets relatively less funding.
Funding for vocational education ‘stop-gap’ or ‘reactionary’ – the government funds vocational opportunities in local areas where industry is in decline, to deal with unemployment, rather than pro-actively funding vocational courses.
The standards of British vocational courses are generally lower than in France or Germany
The diversity of choice is lower than in France or Germany.
These have tended to treat issues of ethnicity and underachievement together with poverty and educational achievement.