Posted : 8 months ago by Mandy Crawford-Lee

Apprenticeships are Not Just for the Young…

Apprenticeships are Not Just for the Young…

The debate about the cost of an all age, all level, all stage apprenticeship system in England has started to re-emerge, with a recent sector leader calling for future funding to be restricted to new starts (and younger aged cohorts) rather than meet the cost of training adults already employed by the employer. Indeed, for several years many in the skills sector argue that apprenticeship funding should be prioritised for the young. I don’t agree for the following reasons. 

In the 1960s and 1970s individuals would leave school and start an Apprenticeship and look forward, or otherwise, to a lifelong occupation.

How different working life is in 2023.  The typical individual is now likely to change career between five and seven times during their working life.  Linkedin predicted in 2018 that 85% of the jobs that will exist in 2030 had not been invented.  Technology and increasingly AI will also see a range of existing jobs disappear by 2035. Individuals will not just need to update their skills, but will need to develop the skills and knowledge needed to be able to achieve competence in new occupations throughout their working life.

An Apprenticeship is a work-based training programme designed to develop the knowledge, skills and behaviours an individual needs to be occupationally competent.  Since their introduction, Apprenticeship standards have been developed for over 800[1] occupations from level 2 to level 7.  With individuals changing occupations throughout life, the Apprenticeship concept and Apprenticeship itself will become of increasing relevant to individuals of all ages.  Many of the occupations where Apprenticeship standards have been developed are not appropriate for 16 – 18 year olds.  Others are more appropriate for older learners.  Seventy-nine Apprenticeship standards, have for example, been developed at level 7.

Apprenticeship Should Focus on Training Individuals, of Whatever Age, for the Occupations Employers, Society and the Economy Needs – Those arguing for Apprenticeship to be prioritised on young people ignore the fact that Apprenticeship is a programme that has a range of customers.  The individual apprentice is, of course, a customer, but so is their employer and society as a whole.  It is also worth emphasising that through the Apprenticeship Levy, larger employers fund the Apprenticeship programme.  Controversial as it may be to some, surely enabling the NHS to use its levy payments to train a 30 year-old as a new registered nurse, where we have a massive skills shortage, is a greater priority than funding a retail, hairdressing or customer service Apprenticeship place for a 17 year-old, in an occupation where skills shortages are far less evident.

To Facilitate Frequent Career Changes Young People will Need to Develop a Broader Base of Transferable Skills – If an individual will have, on average, five to seven careers during their lifetime they need to develop a base from which they can acquire such skills.  Of course, English, Maths and IT are of fundamental importance, but so too are other skills that will support an individual acquire new and update existing skills throughout life.  In Apprenticeships for young people we will need to ensure there is an increasing focus on skills that support and facilitate learning throughout life, and not just on the skills that individuals need to do a job today.

An Over Focus on the Young will not Help Apprenticeships Deliver Social Mobility – Individuals should have the ability to progress to a higher-level occupation and fulfil their potential throughout their working life.  Unlike traditional academic study with Apprenticeship progress is typically not linear.  Individuals do not complete a level 3 Apprenticeship at 18 or 19 and immediately start a Higher or Degree Apprenticeship.  What Higher and Degree Apprenticeships can do is provide new opportunities for older adults to train for and secure higher technical, professional and managerial roles.  Think of a 30 year-old health care assistant from a deprived background having the opportunity to train as a nursing associate or a 35 year-old nursing associate training as a registered nurse.  Such opportunities need to be developed and championed.  Measures of social mobility that simply focus on achievements by the age of 24 undermine and undervalue the achievements of such individuals.

Apprenticeships are of course of significant value for many young people.  Their use should be supported and championed, but so too should Apprenticeships for older workers.  In its 2020 Vision for Apprenticeship,[2]Government was clear that Apprenticeship should be an attractive offer for young people and adults.  To be of maximum benefit Apprenticeship must remain and be championed as an all age programme.

Mandy Crawford-Lee

Chief Executive

[1] As at 20 July 2023, 836 Apprenticeship Standards had been developed, IfATE.

[2] English Apprenticeships: Our 2020 Vision, HM Government, 2015

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