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Apprenticeships could be snapped up by foreigners if there is no improvement

Employers are under pressure to position apprenticeships as highly regarded programmes as they risk them going to workers from overseas according to Sir Michael Wilshaw.  

Safeera Sarjoo
15th February 2016
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The Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills is expected to criticise the UK’s lacklustre effort in challenging apprentices in comparison to our European counterparts at an upcoming British Chambers of Commerce conference.

Sir Michael Wilshaw is expected to say:  ‘An apprenticeship isn’t endless tea-making, shelf-stacking or envelope-stuffing. It is not an induction course or a six-week in-house training scheme. Worryingly, we even found examples of people who had been put on apprenticeships without even knowing it.’

In Germany and Switzerland apprentices have very hands on roles with some facing clients, carrying out basic medical procedures and working with complex equipment. In fact two-thirds of young Swiss who leave compulsory education at 15 embark on a vocational programme which incorporates an apprenticeship.

Although we have seen improvements being made in the UK with the likes of Pizza Hut announcing apprenticeship programmes with Manchester Metropolitan University, we still have some way to go if they are to be regarded in the same esteem as those in Germany and Switzerland.

Sir Wilshaw raises very good points and observations where apprenticeships abroad are concerned. In Germany and Switzerland, employers play an active role when it comes to defining these programmes according to the latest changes within their labour markets. This in turn creates apprentices that are equipped for jobs that require particular skills and experience. Why the UK hasn’t implemented a similar structure is beyond us.

Sir Wilshaw is also expected to express what the UK apprenticeship landscape could look like if improvements are not made in terms of attitudes and quality. 

‘If we don’t fix the apprenticeship system we will continue to have major problems in recruitment. Local firms won’t be able to fill vacancies without looking outside their local area or even overseas and local youngsters won’t be able to find work because they don’t have the right skills and don’t know how to access the right training.’

Perhaps this is the wakeup call the UK needs to properly work on changing perceptions and making a commitment to educating children at a younger age of their options post GCSE. Local firms needing to source employees from overseas will not improve employability rates in the UK, which should be a leading reason why businesses and schools collaborate in order to bring exciting new opportunities in the form of an apprenticeship.

Last year the Centre for Economics and Business Research said that apprenticeships could make an annual contribution of £31bn to the wider British economy. This is significant worth and coupled with the benefits they bring such as the ‘earn whilst you learn’ aspect, you would think companies would be clambering on top of one another in order to offer the very best apprenticeships. Sir Wilshaw has previously made criticisms about the state of UK apprenticeships and he is right to.

The government’s plan to create millions of apprenticeships is all well and good but if an effort is not made to improve the quality and legitimacy of apprenticeships, then how can the UK become a leader within this educational branch?


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