Friday, 21 April 2017

The importance of 'off the job' apprenticeship training

Quality, not quantity should be the watchword of all technical and vocational training. There's good reason for this, but before I tell you why, let me explain one of the current points of contention within the sector.

Much has been made over recent apprenticeship reforms, with our Government going all guns blazing to deliver on their ambitious target of three million new apprentices by 2020.

With that approach lies a real danger, that these will not be the quality apprenticeships we all hoped for. One sticking point, that some are not fond of is the requirement for off the job training. Many providers have taken aim at the Government’s policy of ensuring apprentices receive off the job training which accounts for “20 per cent of the apprentice’s contracted employment hours across the whole apprenticeship.”

Our College has always prided itself on delivering really high quality, meaningful apprenticeships. From ensuring all apprentices receive a meaningful wage, to rigorously vetting businesses where we will place an apprentice, our belief is an apprenticeship should never be viewed as a simple, cost effective way of increasing staffing resources. It is just those beliefs which have helped our College’s apprenticeship team receive an ‘Outstanding’ grading by Ofsted. To make an apprenticeship meaningful, I believe there needs to be a substantial amount of off the job training, with apprentices visiting their college or other training provider, and using that time to develop the deeper skillset which they won’t learn while on the job.

In my years as a College Principal, I have spoken to many apprentices, and there’s little doubt they have all found their time at the College beneficial. It helps to crystallize their learning, giving them confidence that they are developing the right skills, while adding to the work based education they are receiving. It also gives them scope to develop their functional skills if required, ensuring that when they qualify, they are job-ready.

Without that all important off the job training, we are creating an environment where the currency of an apprenticeship can be devalued. An environment in which the true hallmarks of a quality apprenticeship no longer exist, and one where poor quality apprenticeships, which lack checks, balances and additional learning, can thrive.

I genuinely believe apprenticeships are an amazing way for employees to learn the real everyday tradecraft of their sector, but to contemplate removing that essential ‘day at College’ would do nothing but diminish quality. It may provide low quality training providers with a more profitable business model, but it’ll do nothing to promote technical and vocational excellence in the UK. And my view is that despite our College being a business, we are also a public servant. If we aren’t delivering a high quality product which benefits our apprentices, our communities and our employers, then we simply aren’t doing our job. To remove off the job training would, in my view, mean just that. Our apprentices do not deserve that, and nor do the communities we serve or the employers we work with.

The removal of this key time, would also mean fewer skills learned by the apprentice. There are a whole range of soft skills which are taught during time at College. In an era where employees move fluidly between jobs – with young people expected to have an average of nine through their working lives – these soft skills are gaining in importance. It is also key when considering that the average worker will also have one complete career change. Developing these apprentices so that they are able to be competitive in this type of environment is key to their success.

So rather than looking to fillet off the training to bump up profits, we should all be looking to take the opportunity to boost the skills of our apprentices, and create some of the finest technical and vocational tradespeople to ensure we are contributing to the prosperity of our country as we move forward.

So let me bring you back to that initial statement, that quality, not quantity, is what really matters. Delivering for the future of the UK really will require quality. Ensuring that our workforce can be competitive is critical to our future economic prosperity. If we are unable to do this, because we’ve chosen to cut corners, or provide poor quality training, it will do nothing but harm our country. That’s why I’m passionate about ensuring we get the opportunity to deliver training that is the highest possible quality for every single student and apprentice we have. And that is why we must retain off the job training as we move forward.


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