A Personal Opinion.
Cards on the table, I’m a long-standing advocate of educational collaboration, so for me, whilst acknowledging the education marketplace has inherent aspects of competition and rivalry, thankfully the days when apprenticeships were considered divorced from, or alien to HE/University links are diminishing. I regularly interact with and advise schools, private training providers, colleges and universities in a professional capacity; and I see increasing interest from teachers, students, parents and others in apprenticeships, including those offering a higher-level route into a career.
Increasing Learner Choice and Opportunity.
It doesn’t have to be one or the other anymore with apprenticeship standards in place, and others being developed up to level 7 which is the equivalent of Master’s Degree level. Degree apprenticeships are available and collaboration and increased partnering between FE and HE Institutions, and representative organisations facilitating this, allows for a variety of educational entry, progression, transfer and exit points.
Major government policy change is underway transitioning apprenticeships from the existing frameworks structure, towards their eventual full replacement by clear and concise standards, defined by employer groups, and recognised by industry.
Each recognised occupation should eventually have its own apprenticeship standard linked to a specific occupational level and industry specified requirements. Standards are intended to be deliberately challenging, stimulating and require a ‘minimum’ of one year’s training duration. All new standards are publicly available, so companies, learners, trainers and others can access the relevant information to help with career development aspirations and choices.
Interestingly, apprenticeship funding criteria and age restrictions have been relaxed meaning they are now available to school leavers, and older or more experienced workers looking to further develop their skills, qualifications and career prospects.
What is an Apprenticeship?
In the most basic terms, an apprenticeship is a mix of real work and learning. apprentices are employed, earn a wage, and gain structured experience whilst working towards an apprenticeship framework that will include many qualifications; or more latterly apprenticeship standards developed by groups of employers in relevant industries.
Apprenticeships are available at intermediate, advanced and higher levels and higher apprenticeships are designed to meet employers’ needs at level 4 or above and include qualifications at a level equivalent to more commonly recognised Higher Education.
A key development of new apprenticeship standards is incorporation of end-point assessments which may take a variety of forms, depending upon each industry or sector specific requirements; these also allow for grading as opposed to overall competence which the frameworks they are replacing favour.
Explaining Apprenticeship Benefits is Critical.
High quality careers information advice & guidance (CIAG) is critical, and it’s vital the positive benefits of an apprenticeship are effectively communicated. Parity of esteem between academic and practical routes, and progression between them must be understood and appreciated by young people, and by those providing them with careers advice and guidance. This includes teachers, parents and any others that may influence career pathway choices.
Why Choose a Higher Apprenticeship?
Higher apprenticeships provide many benefits such as offering an alternative route towards good job roles in interesting companies, industries and sectors. A higher apprenticeship also provides nationally recognised qualifications comparable to the early stages of higher education, and real work experience with a salary and paid study.
Looking longer term, apprenticeships provide a sound platform on which to build, and progress up to, into, and through Higher Education; and support study aimed at gaining professional qualifications and ultimately professional status.
The Political Landscape.
The government has set a challenging target of 3 million apprenticeships to be delivered by 2020, supported by the introduction of the apprenticeship levy which came into force in April 2017. This change provides universities and FE colleges holding certain HE awarding powers the opportunity to position themselves within this fast-developing agenda.
Degree apprenticeships provide an important opportunity for universities to widen participation, forge closer associations with employers and help drive productivity and economic progress. Degree apprenticeships can be very attractive to non-traditional students, they also support widening participation goals and offer a way for universities to diversify their offer and develop alternatives to traditional full-time study.
This is a great time to encourage and support stronger FE & HE collaboration, especially as the government is putting its considerable weight behind apprenticeships that bridge both areas. Apprenticeships appear to be gaining appeal, especially whilst there is still conjecture surrounding university tuition fees.
Apprenticeships offer a great way to enter and progress within different industries, not least because they help learners gain qualifications, skills and knowledge required to succeed in a chosen industry. Hands-on training provides opportunity to put skills into practice and support progression in the workplace.
New apprentices such as school leavers can be employed and are paid a salary by their employer. Existing workers, or those looking to change career now have increased opportunity to access apprenticeships, and this has been helped by policy changes and introduction of the apprenticeship levy aimed at helping with the cost of training (or a major proportion of it) for most pursuing this route.
Ultimately, the growing convergence of FE and HE routes is a major plus for the economy, the education sector, and for learners. The challenge now is to continue collaborative efforts, foster innovation, and ensure opportunities available are clearly explained and benefits understood and taken advantage of.
Anyone with a genuine interest in education must keep promoting the positive opportunities available, and help demystify what can often appear an overly difficult educational landscape. Let’s keep the debate, and the progress going!