Monday, 25 January 2016

Partnerships are the key ingredient for apprenticeship provision

For many years, apprenticeships were the gold standard for people looking to start their careers.

This coming together of business and education as a partnership launched hundreds of thousands of successful careers over the course of centuries, with countless tradesmen learning their technical craft while working ‘on the job’. 

But as time changed, the apprenticeship fell out of fashion, with learners instead opting to take a university driven pathway rather than a technical, vocational one.

Now though, as the UK economy begins to re-balance, and there’s a realisation that actually, we need the real trade-craft which the apprenticeship system used to provide, it has become a central government ambition for this pathway to grow once again.
Automotive apprentices hone their skills
That ambition has been given a target – three million new apprenticeship places to be created by 2020. It’s not going to be a simple order to fulfill, but the benefits of moving back to a system where apprenticeships are considered a high quality alternative to university are all too clear.

For a start, they’re real jobs for those who get an apprenticeship – a way for these individuals to earn a wage while they build up their skills base. It’s an investment in our young, with the deal struck that they actually need to get out there and participate, working to grow their abilities.

Apprenticeships also offer a way for industry to define and grow the skills it requires. Some sectors – such as construction – are in real need of fresh blood to continue growing, and apprenticeships are the perfect way to help start meeting this shortage.  There are some serious benefits; not just for students, but also for businesses.

But there are still a range of challenges faced by those involved in delivering apprenticeships.
For FE providers, the big challenge is clear – building the strong relationships and partnerships with business that’ll allow them to ensure they’re able to help deliver the right skills for the local economy.

The best people to help FE colleges navigate the skills needed in the local economy are local businesses – in fact, that’s the only community which can accurately tell education providers what’s wanted. While most FE providers are likely to already have close links with many of the businesses in their communities, it’s growing in importance to build those partnerships. They’ll help the education sector understand what works, and what doesn’t for business, as well as what skills are needed. 

Government is working hard to help nurture this relationship building and recently announced its new Apprenticeship Delivery Board. The board brings together a range of business leaders to help drive the Government ambition forward. However it has come in for criticism due to a key omission in the board’s makeup – a sector leader who represents small and medium sized businesses. In east Kent we already know that makes up one of the big drivers of local economies, so my College is already working in partnership with the SME community. I would hope that the Government will find a way to include this valuable section of the economy.

What the creation of the board does mark is a move in the right direction – the creation of a holistic strategy which starts bringing business leaders, local economies and education providers together. And that’s exactly what’s needed.

So, although we’re well into the month of January, and New Year celebrations are but a distant memory, one of my wishes for 2016 is a greater coming together of industry and FE so that together, we can improve the outcomes for students, communities and the local economy.

East Kent College is always looking for business partners, so if you would be interested in working with us, please get in touch with the College.

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