Vince Cable recently announced that the 2 millionth apprenticeship has been reached, during the tenure of the current government. Outlining the enormous range of apprenticeships currently on offer, incorporating many professional areas previously only accessible via a graduate hiring route, he outlined how the landscape of apprenticeships and apprentice emerging talent requirements is undergoing a major shift.
Employers are seeking to take advantage of this additional and alternative route to acquiring high calibre entry level talent. The quality of graduate talent is under scrutiny, employers continue to find that many university leaverslack a range of basic employability skills, including strong communication and numeracy skills, along with a demonstrable track record of working to deadlines, commercial awareness, organisational context and so on.Apprenticeships provide employers with the opportunity to educate, develop and shape their future stars “in house”, right from day one.
However, an enormous challenge remains; despite such positive movements from the government and employers, awareness amongst young people regarding the alternatives to university and the availability of apprenticeships remains depressingly low. Not enough is being done to engage with school students to promote, explain and demonstrate the ground breaking alternative to entry level career opportunities which the new apprenticeship landscape represents.
Despite enormous efforts on the part of the government and employers, in many schools (and families) stigma is still attached to apprenticeships. Many young people are allowed to develop the perception that apprenticeships are a route for the less academically able, and, unfortunately this misconception is perpetuated by the dearth of careers advice available to young people, prior to entering university. School and sixth form pupils shape their aspirations in accordance to their parents’ and teachers’ experiences. Often, parents and teachers ascribe to the notion that university is the only option available to bright young people serious about their career. The availability of other equally attractive and rigorous options is not championed, and hence young people tread the well worn path to university, lacking awareness of and insight into the alternative high achieving career development opportunities that 21 Century apprenticeship schemes can offer.
Surely therefore, over and above the constantly reviewed formal curricular examination systems, career related education must start to play a significantly more focal part in school students’ timetabled education. School careers advice and support services need to be encouraged to evolve alongside mainstream curriculum subjects, as part of the core weekly timetable, careers education needs to become significantly more proactive and influential within schools and colleges, embracing the support that a range of innovative new technologies can provide for young people in their initial journeys into the world of work. Careers Services need to evolve into Careers Education; delivering measurable added value to students in the context of career education, career planning, employment options and employability maximisation.
School leavers need to understand the importance of transferrable core employability skills and continued self and formal education. As employers know only too well, far too many young people enter university expecting to be presented with a path of riches at the end, and far too many are left disappointed. The conveyor-belt fashion in which so much of our young talent enters university, simply because it is the default option for those with a reasonable academic track record needs to become a thing of the past; bespoke “best fit” continuing education and development options need to be promoted and delivered by many more of our schools and colleges, helping to ensure that young people take the most relevant early stage career path for them.
Looking forward, it is likely that apprenticeships will represent only one type of many future alternative routes to launching careers, as technological advances continue to provide virgin professional territory requiring new talent,our education system will have to adapt to the requirements of the economy. The times, they are a-changing.