making apprenticeships a viable alternative to Higher Education

Deborah Cooper MarstonThe introduction of the apprenticeship levy in April 2017 will give more employers ‘skin in the game’ through funding they plan to provide. Recognising that apprenticeships often weren’t delivering what was needed, the government has already been encouraging businesses to design their own programmes. It has also cut funding for qualifications that didn’t deliver the skills needed by employers, with aerial balloon displays being among those singled out for criticism by the former Skills Minister, Matthew Hancock. The levy will continue the government’s drive towards more meaningful outcomes for both apprentices and employers.

These appear to be encouraging developments, but a fundamental question remains; how do businesses attract individuals who may otherwise attend university?

Over the past twenty years there has been a clear focus on encouraging people to enter higher education, most notably through Tony Blair’s flagship education policy: a target to get 50% of young people into university. The costs of attaining a degree, which have increased sharply in recent years, and the scarcity of graduate jobs, may begin to reverse the trend begun by Blair’s Labour government. But I believe the onus is on businesses to make apprenticeships attractive not only to themselves, but to the people they are hoping to attract.

“the onus is on businesses to make apprenticeships attractive not only to themselves, but to the people they are hoping to attract.”

A key aspect of my role at Marston has been developing our Learning and Development Talent Management Strategy. Our Apprentice Scheme is an integral part of this, embedding talent and succession planning into our career pathways through proactive mentoring and development of young people.

The apprentices we have trained are a valuable addition to our business, and it is important that this is recognised. The contribution made by Joshua Sowerbutts, a former apprentice and now a permanent member of staff, was recently recognised by the 2016 Chartered Institute of Credit Management Credit Awards, where he won both the Newcomer of the Year Award and the Winner of Winners Award. In return for the commitment offered by our apprentices, opportunities for career progression, including leadership roles, are vital.

“In return for the commitment offered by our apprentices, opportunities for career progression, including leadership roles, are vital.”

Only by holding up apprenticeships as valued parts of talent management, with fair reward and opportunity, will business get the most out of their apprentices, and retain the staff they have invested in. It is vital, therefore, that apprentices are not viewed as cheap resource, but rather as a long-term asset to the business. To move toward a system where apprenticeships are viewed as a truly viable alternative to higher education, we must give our apprentices of today the opportunity to sit at tomorrow’s boardroom table.


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