Getting an apprenticeship with Rolls Royce is as competitive as trying to get into Oxbridge. At the start of National Apprenticeship Week 2012, AAT Chief Executive Jane Scott Paul asks: isn’t it time snobbery over apprenticeships was put to bed?
The vast changes in the education landscape are making the headlines and naturally causing a lot of passionate debate. Couple the latest depressing unemployment figures with youth unemployment at its highest since records began, and it is not surprising that education and skills are top of the political agenda.
Vocational qualifications have under come under scrutiny, with Professor Alison Wolf’s review of vocational qualifications last year and the recent news from Michael Gove that thousands of vocational qualifications will be cut from school league tables.
Apprenticeships, too, are in the spotlight in this debate. Are apprenticeships worthwhile? Are they adding value? Have apprenticeship numbers fallen or risen since 2011? Are short training courses being packaged cynically as apprenticeships to attract funding and to meet targets? We need to spare a thought for school-leavers and their parents, trying to make decisions in the face of confusing and contradictory messages.
It is right to scrutinise apprenticeships rigorously to ensure that they offer a high quality alternative to university. But some of the commentary demonstrates a snobbery about apprenticeships which is out of date and needs to be challenged. Changing these long-held perceptions will take time.
The reality is that the laudable drive to increase participation in higher education has led to young people embarking on a university experience without taking a long hard look at whether it is the right choice for them. Young people need to consider the risk that university may be a costly mistake. Employment and earning prospects vary greatly by university and by course.
The rise in tuition fees appears to have led to a fall in applications for university. While many worry that the drop in university application numbers this year will lead to a less skilled workforce, I don’t think this will be the case. The best apprenticeships offer a viable alternative to bridge any skills gap in careers such as engineering, technology, manufacturing, IT, finance and accountancy. Getting an apprenticeship with Rolls Royce is as competitive as trying to get into Oxbridge.
The apprenticeship route is well worth exploring, and provides the chance to earn while you learn, to learn by doing and to gain hands-on practical work experience along the way.
We have seen first-hand how well apprenticeships work in the finance sector with all sizes and types of business, and so this year we decided to practice what we preach and introduced our own apprenticeship programme.
We invested time at the beginning to recruit the right school-leavers with the right characteristics and attitudes. We have been impressed by the enthusiasm and commitment of our apprentices who are adding real value at AAT. We are also pleased to be creating employment, choices and opportunities for young people at a time when they face unprecedented levels of unemployment and uncertainty.
So while many are still sceptical about apprenticeships and who they benefit, all I can say is that now, we urgently need to offer more choice to young people as well as better careers guidance. I hope with time we can raise the status of apprenticeships and demonstrate that they offer a good stepping stone into worthwhile careers.
Jane Scott Paul was AAT's Chief Executive between 1997 and 2014.