APPRENTICESHIPS are not what they used to be – or at least not what you think they are.
And the Government is rightly trying to spread that message.
Leading the call is Dr Vince Cable MP – Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and President of the Board of Trade.
Dr Cable visited the region recently to meet with apprentices at the Midlands base of Fujitsu – one of the leading employers of apprentices.
The Observer’s Chris Willmott spoke to him about the schemes which he wants to be seen as equal to a university degree, and the apprentices themselves.
Being in my mid-30s, I come from the generation where all the talk at school is about college and university.
In many ways, this is still the case as schools are still failing in their efforts to point youngsters in the direction of apprenticeships. But the Coalition Government is determined to change this.
Why, you may ask. Don’t apprentices get awful pay? Won’t they lose out to university graduates in the fight for jobs in the future?
All questions I wanted answers for and was planning to ask Dr Cable about.
But in just a short few minutes speaking to the apprentices at Fujitsu I had my ignorance about apprenticeships blown out of the water.
Yes, they do earn a very low wage – albeit not at Fujitsu which pays around 50 per cent more than other apprenticeship employers and offers a full time position to 100 per cent of its apprentices.
But that is pretty much where the story of inequality ends – said apprentice Stephanie Palmer.
“You can’t get a job without work experience and an apprenticeship is the very best work experience,” she told me.
“You get to learn the job on the job and get paid for it, then at the end of the apprenticeship you are in pole position to secure a full time job as it’s a job you have already been doing for two years or more.
“Yes the pay can be on the low side with some companies, but in my opinion it beats the debt you can get in to at university.
“Apprenticeships are amazing and should be considered by everyone as a real alternative to a university degree.”
The apprentices joined Dr Cable for a round table meeting where he asked them about what they do and how the scheme has benefitted them.
The jobs ranged from business administration to computer encryption to protect websites – an issue Dr Cable noted as very topical within Government.
At the end of his visit the Secretary of State spoke to me about his desire to see apprenticeship schemes continue to grow.
“If we were in Germany the apprentices would be seen as the workforce’s elite – not the university graduates,” he added.
“There is the need for, and the space for, both and the need for them to work alongside each other.
“If an apprentice gets through to the advanced levels of the apprenticeship then they will study at university anyway and have a degree at the end of it as well as years of job experience.”
He added, despite not being in charge of schools, he and his department were determined to continue to raise awareness of apprenticeships – both among the general public and particularly within schools – to make sure they are clearly signposted as an option for school leavers.
“Meeting these apprentices here today highlights just how important – and how fantastic – apprenticeships are,” he told me.
************************* DID YOU KNOW? ******************************
There are three levels of apprenticeship in England:
– Intermediate: equivalent to 5 GCSE passes
– Advanced: equivalent to 2 A level passes
– Higher: lead to NVQ Level 4 and above or a Foundation Degree
Qualifications Apprenticeships can lead to:
– National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) at Level 2,3,4 or 5
– Functional Skills qualifications, eg in maths, English or ICT
– A technical certificate, such as a BTEC or City & Guilds Progression Award
– Knowledge-based qualifications, such as a Higher National Certificate (HNC), a Higher National Diploma (HND) or a Foundation degree.
Dr Vince Cable held talks with apprentices (s)