Penny Marshall: No sorcery behind modern apprentices

WHEN we think of apprentices, many of us might recall Mickey Mouse wearing a pointy blue hat, or hark back to the 'good old days' when many people left school, learnt a trade and stuck at it until they retired.

Theresa May and Philip Hammond meet apprentices at the Leeds College Building after the Budget in November 2017.

Well, times have moved on since
the budding sorcerer flooded the
kitchen and created an army of mops. Nowadays, although they might sometimes carry some of the misconceptions of the past, apprenticeships are not just for those people looking for training in trades – valuable though they are.

They also offer an equal, credible 
and respectable alternative to a full-
time university education for young people looking for a professional role.

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In the 1960s, the popularity of apprenticeships reached its peak, with 35 per cent of male school leavers undertaking them.

Their prevalence declined significantly over the subsequent 30 years, perhaps, in part, as a consequence of a changing labour market and fluctuations in industrial processes. ,

More recently, uptake fell further when Tony Blair’s government set that now infamous target of 50 per cent of young people attending university.

At some time in the 1990s, apprenticeships fell victim to a perception, and regrettably, sometimes reality, that they could be used as an opportunity to obtain cheap labour. Understandably, this did little to sell them to school leavers, or boost their profile.

But now is the time of the apprenticeship renaissance, and a range of schemes and programmes have been designed to put them back in the post-16 mixing pot of options.

The Apprenticeship Levy ensures that funding is available to support apprenticeships in a wide range of disciplines.

And professional organisations, such as the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), are increasingly working in partnership with educational establishments
across the country, including Leeds College of Building, to deliver high 
quality vocational and academic 
training.

But there’s still a deal of work to do in order to ensure that apprenticeships continue to be recognised for their real worth by prospective apprentices and by their teachers and parents.

Both technician and degree-level apprenticeships, such as those offered
by the educational institutions supported by ICE, provide a great opportunity to ‘earn while you learn’ with a career
option and a recognised qualification at the end.

An apprentice finishes his or her training with a fully rounded experience – real-world, vocational experience, backed up with academic learning.

They are match fit for the job world, and very often take up a post in the organisation at which they served their apprenticeship.

Conventional graduates, whilst 
fully conversant in the theory and technical nature of their discipline, can lack the practical edge gained by apprenticeships through their hands-on learning.

Not only do apprentices receive a salary for their work, they also avoid student loans, which nowadays can be more than £9,000 per year, for tuition alone.

But it is undoubtedly the balanced combination of practical and theoretical learning which gives apprentices an 
edge.

Apprenticeships can also help to level the playing field between male and female candidates.

For many years, some young women may have felt discouraged from studying or pushing forward with careers in what have been traditionally thought of as “boys’ subjects”.

Through practical, real world experience, students can try out the profession and get the opportunity to see that anyone, regardless of gender, can find a fantastic career which quite literally changes the world.

Of course, our young people – world-leaders of the future – need to be encouraged and supported to pursue the right path for them whether it be a traditional apprenticeship, a degree apprenticeship, or the university degree route.

But it’s incumbent upon us all, especially in engineering and business, to make the case for apprenticeships, and the essential part they play today.

Penny Marshall is director or The Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) for Yorkshire and the Humber.