Apprenticeships must be more than just another vocational option for the non-academic

The apprenticeship brand has work to do to adapt its image for a new generation of workers.

Rhian Johns is director of policy and campaigns at Impetus – the Private Equity Foundation

This week is National Apprenticeship Week.

Ordinarily I’m not a fan of naming days or weeks after specific causes, however I can certainly see the need to raise the profile and understanding of the importance of apprenticeships – especially given the high levels of youth unemployment in the UK today.

On Monday I attended a conference held in London by The Work Foundation where both Matthew Hancock MP and Liam Bynes MP were speaking.

Apprenticeships have at least some political consensus. Although political parties differ on the detail, they can agree that the old fashioned way of training young people to be thriving employees in the UK labour market, with not much tinkering, can be a very successful modern approach for doing just the same for young people in the 21st century UK labour market.

But it wasn’t either of the politicians that captured my imagination yesterday. It was a comment made towards the end of the day by Nigel Whitehead, managing director, BAE Systems.

He spoke passionately about how young people learn attitudes and the more general work skills, such as turning up on time and appearance, through spending time with and copying older mentors.

The phrase he used was “Role model kettling”- but unlike the negative associations of police capturing protestors into a corner, mentors can capture young workers at the beginning of their career and through leading by example, coax them in company culture, molding their attitudes and behaviours. 

This simple idea of using older more experienced workers to not just train young people in the technical skills required for a job, but also to mentor and guide them in how to work, what it means to be an employee and to be a part of a company and team is not a new concept. 

No doubt it’s as old as work itself. The phrase “role model kettling” however, to me, expressed the concept in rather a neat and modern way!

As someone who thrives on innovation and new ideas, I don’t always spend enough time looking at what’s right with what exists. The apprenticeship brand certainly has some work to do to adapt its image for a new generation of workers, for new and different industry sectors and different demographics of employees.

Let’s not underestimate the power of the original concept – whilst I totally agree we need many, many more apprenticeship places, these must never come at the cost of quality. 

Yes, I agree that businesses must have more ownership of the learning frameworks and qualifications received by apprentices, but not at the cost of the mentorship element. New sectors, especially those that currently employ large numbers of young people should be encouraged to develop apprenticeship programmes, but not at the cost of career pathways and un-limited progression within the company. 

Apprenticeships must remain more than just another vocational option for the non-academic, they must be about learning and earning and career progression and most importantly they must remain more than just the sum of the skills a young person learns, having an experienced role model to guide and mentor young workers is a powerful way to prepare young workers to excel in Britain’s 21st century labour market. 

Let’s role model kettle Britain’s youth.

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