Roll up, roll up – become an Apprentice

Roll up, roll up – become an Apprentice, you know it makes sense because everyone says so.

Well that rather depends!

In my opinion it depends primarily on the quality controls of the Learning Providers, the relationship they have with employers and the skills and dedication of the personnel meeting the needs of all concerned. But from the would-be Apprentice point of view, the offers will all look the same on a whizzy website. So how will they choose?

I have been engaged in the work based learning sector for more than a decade and whether as a WBL Coordinator – matching a carefully chosen employer to a potential employee on an appropriate course. Or as more recently, persuading learning providers to use 21st century technology to assess and deliver apprenticeships in the workplace. I have found that with a few agencies the interest of the would-be apprentice appears to be the last consideration, perhaps influenced by the urgency to get numbers up, targets met, funding achieved.

Modern Apprenticeships Logo [Converted]Don’t get me wrong I am the biggest fan of the Apprenticeship programme as my younger family members who are at or aiming for university will testify and I am first to applaud the hundreds of Learning Providers in the FE & Skills sector that have gone above and beyond the expectations of learners, employers and perhaps their own organisation. and we only have to recall the achievements in Sao Paulo World Skills 2015, to see what the very best of these can achieve when they wiped the medal board to the great credit of all concerned.

But my wittering has been triggered by an article from David Hughes (NIACE Chief Exec) titled:

What can the apprenticeship levy do for apprentices?

A very interesting piece on the government consultation taking place albeit light on details and openly asking for ideas and solutions, it is not clear what impact the levy will have. But the article suggests that whatever else is in the proposal, there appears to be ‘nothing in it that protects the long term interest of the apprentice where an employer offers a narrower, perhaps more cynical experience which simply focuses on having someone doing a job on a low wage with some assessment alongside.’ Well there lies the problem and it’s not just the employer, much of the control is still in the hands of the Provider Agency as we if not others well know.

We are all aware of Learning Providers and employers abusing the system as well as the many outstanding examples that don’t need to and despite my no longer being in the front line there isn’t a week goes by that I don’t pick up on one or another. But with unprecedented financial pressure on agencies of all types there appears to be a minority on a ludicrous drive to ‘sign up’ anyone, anywhere and call them an apprentice, I fear that the situation may get worse and very rapidly.

As an example, I learned this week of a college signing up a number of experienced (older) engineers on a 4 year Apprenticeship. When later questioned by an adviser it was clear that it would never achieve what the employer wanted or thought was getting.

I already knew of a family member temporarily working with a builder for some money whilst taking a gap year, being signed up by a college on a two year Apprenticeship (Joinery) which bore no relationship to his qualifications, ambitions or even his one man employers requirements (except for the £1500 received). He is now working nights to fund himself whilst on on a 4 year on-line degree course with a university and his long term interests look promising.

Both colleges are graded ‘Outstanding’  so they have obviously ticked all the right boxes except perhaps in the sometimes overlooked vocational department where in these examples it was ‘never mind the quality – feel the width’ – sign here. So how would the learner, parent or employer have known better?

Not just colleges of course. I read recently of a 16 year old apprentice being killed in an engineering firm due to inadequate ‘everything.’ The employer was jailed for 8 months, the learning provider fined but went bust. My question? What kind of provider would place an apprentice in the appalling environment that it so clearly was?  Who is checking the checker?

I have several more examples but what it comes down to is as David Hughes writes, in the minority of cases where the system is abused by a Learning Provider, or employer, or both – what is there to protect the long term interests of the Apprentice? Apparently nothing!   Well at least until the Apprentice Charter proposed by NIACE is embedded throughout the sector which I look forward to with great interest.

NIACE Apprentice Charter

What has this got to do with technology?  again apparently nothing and as much as I would like to suggest that the very best providers use technology to it’s fullest potential and the others do not, I cant and in fact it isn’t true.  It’s not true because I know that both examples shown above have ePortfolios and other technologies in it’s vocational sector. But the learner in the second example, who knows a thing or two about ePortfolios, on-line assessment etc. said that his tutor assessor, didn’t like it so he didn’t use it.  So much for quality controls percolating down to the front line, clearly they were never robust enough.

So when is an apprenticeship not an apprenticeship?   When it’s not fit for the purpose that the would-be apprentice or potential employer, had in mind.  Thankfully, the good guys have a clear majority and don’t need a charter to do the job brilliantly. To the others, that may benefit from guidance on quality, strategy or ‘transparency’ through using appropriate technology  feel free to contact us, a Technology Review may be a way of joining the good guys, or maybe not.

Meanwhile – buyer beware!

Colin Gallacher
Learning Technology Consultant


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