Apprenticeships - in search of a Blue Planet effect | People Plus

Apprenticeships – in search of a Blue Planet effect

PeoplePlus Apprenticeships Ambassador, David Way, shares his thoughts

I recently had an excellent meeting with employers to discuss the likely future for Apprenticeships as a new Government forms and fresh ministers take over. One of the most interesting and perceptive comments was that Apprenticeships really need their own Blue Planet moment.

The employers believed we need something that captures the public imagination and moves everyone from being aware and passively supportive of Apprenticeships to being active advocates, passionate about driving the changes that would be needed to make Apprenticeships the choice for many thousands more talented young people.

This resonated with me because while there have been a number of changes in recent years that have been transformational for Apprenticeships, there has not yet been the lift-off in Apprenticeship numbers for young people that would put us on a par with the international skills systems that experts regard as the benchmark for us. Indeed, at this same meeting, I was struck by the fact that more young people undertake the Duke of Edinburgh award than take an Apprenticeship.

When I was the CEO of the National Apprenticeship Service, we had a number of approaches from television companies keen to introduce an apprentice into their story lines, though we never felt confident that the stories would end well!

Blue Planet informs, energises and provides a call to action that mobilises people to change the world. Is it possible to transfer this to Apprenticeships?

We are not short of information about Apprenticeships, with regular reports and analysis by academics and organisations such as City and Guilds and the Sutton Trust. Impressive and interesting though they may be to the sector, they do not capture the public imagination. In fact, it has become increasingly rare to even hear informed debate about Apprenticeships on the mainstream political programmes.

In my own comprehensive book on the state of Apprenticeships, I made the point that very few reports look at Apprenticeships in the round. There is usually a particular narrow focus, often on value for money or funding. This does not help its wider appeal.

I had also hoped that the Institute for Apprenticeships would take on the role of independent adviser to Government on the state of Apprenticeships rather like the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee does. Its reports might then provoke greater interest. However, there is not much evidence that the Institute sees this role for itself.

The occasions when we do see some greater emotion about Apprenticeships are when there are awards and competitions. This is when we hear stories of apprentices overcoming great challenges in their lives or achieving standards of skills that are truly awesome.

The public have a positive attitude towards Apprenticeships. Although successive Ministers have repeated a message that was first popular a decade ago that Apprenticeships are often seen as being for other people’s children, my experience has been that this is changing. Parents are interested in knowing more about all of the potential choices for their children. This is partly driven by wanting to avoid student debt but also by a feeling that there is a much wider range of quality opportunities to consider nowadays across FE, HE and Apprenticeships.

Blue Planet succeeds by combining something of great interest to the public with feelings that the world is getting things wrong. By far the most interesting aspects of Apprenticeships are the individual stories of apprentices. So often apprentices succeed despite the system that they try to navigate. I lost count of the number of award winners who said they had ignored the advice of teachers and followed their dreams through an Apprenticeship.

So where might the energy in support of Apprenticeships be focused?

On Government, who are responsible for the management of the whole system and who know what needs doing, not least ensuring the schools system incentivises young people to take quality Apprenticeships as much as going to university. They also need to finish what they have started, especially the map of Higher and Degree Apprenticeships so that young people and their parents can see the ladders of opportunity and progression that are so important for shills and social mobility.

On employers, to open up more opportunities for young people to successfully bridge the gap between school and the world of work; and to recognise they are part of a change to the national culture that sees the absorption of all young people into work is good for both social mobility and economic prosperity. If other competitor countries can see this then so should we.

On training providers, to ensure that young people who are relying on them to provide the teaching and learning they need in one of the most important growth periods of their life are rewarded with a fantastic experience that makes them recommend their experience to all of their friends and siblings.

On all schools to become passionate advocates of Apprenticeships as a great outcome for the many not the few!!

On the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education, to hold a mirror up to Government on quality and progress; and to ensure T-levels provide a smooth and attractive entry route to higher skill Apprenticeships.

On the media, to become more interested in promoting the stories of the many apprentices whose stories of achievement are just as compelling as the animals featured in Blue Planet and more important to this country than Love Island!

However, we might want to drive this agenda forward, the idea that we need something like the Blue Planet effect to rub off onto Apprenticeships is one well worth thinking about. Any thoughts on who would be our Sir David Attenborough?

Professor David Way CBE

Skills adviser to PeoplePlus and author of A Race to the Top – how to achieve 3 million more Apprenticeships by 2020.

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