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Two Million Apprentices – Realistic or Unattainable?

Tuesday, 23 October 2012
By: Martha

When flicking through national newspapers I notice that apprenticeships are taking up lots of column inches.  They're certainly newsworthy considering apprenticeships were key in proposals for educational reform during the recent political conferences. Having secured an important role as a successful education pathway, it is vital that apprenticeships build on this success. But, in an increasingly competitive climate, how will this be achieved?

During Labour's party conference, Ed Miliband spoke about the "forgotten 50 per cent", otherwise known as 'those who do not go to uni'. The Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) put together a pre-emptive response, outlining their aspirations for two million apprentices.

AELP is right to be ambitious. The increase in awareness of apprenticeships and the associated benefits suggests they will become even more popular. But this is no easy task and there will undoubtedly be hurdles along the way.

Recent figures show that apprenticeship uptake for 16-18 year olds fell by 10 per cent in the third quarter of 2012, in comparison with the same quarter in 2011. This dip may lead some to question the sustainability of apprenticeships.

As I see it, this shouldn't be dwelled upon. Looking at the bigger picture, apprenticeship uptake during the 2011/12 academic year reached a total of 502,500 with 233,700 apprenticeship achievements. This is 10 per cent higher than the previous academic year. So I think that minor setbacks in uptake should be used to drive improvements. 
AELP suggests possible improvements which include learner engagement, employer incentives and preparatory training.

  • Schools, teachers and careers advisors must be fully equipped to present apprenticeships as an attractive option
  • Steps could be taken to ensure that information, advice and guidance is impartial and supports apprenticeships
  • Enthusiastic teachers could become ‘apprenticeship champions'
  • Incentives and rewards could encourage schools and employers to support apprenticeships and ensure that learners are achieving the required employability skills.

Lack of employer interest is also a big issue. AELP proposes a more flexible apprenticeship development process, which could provide employers with a bespoke programme tailored to their needs. This is a tricky one. Although having more control over apprenticeship development may entice some employers, it may have the opposite effect on others who may be put off by an increased workload.

Improving apprenticeships and realising ambitious achievement rates is clearly a complicated task. We need to establish exactly what employers, providers and learners want and do as much as we can to meet their needs.

So, we are left with some big questions. Will employers embrace apprenticeships and make the most of the available government funding?  Will the two million apprentices target be achieved, despite the turbulent education system?  Most importantly, will the 'forgotten 50 per cent' be remembered? Only time will tell.


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