Stack products high and sell them cheap. It’s the mantra of many of our profit making companies, and there’s little doubt it’s been successful. In fact, it’s one of the facets that’s led to the decline of independent shops and boutiques on our high streets. Instead, we move in ‘fast fashion’ times, where shops’ supply chains allow them to develop a new product, and have them on the shelf weeks – if not days – later. But while it works for some things, all that pace isn’t right for every product. And so it is with an Apprenticeship – fast, stacked high, sold cheap Apprenticeships don’t work. In fact, I’d go farther than that, and suggest they have the potential to do real damage.There’s no doubt that there’s a cloud hanging over Apprenticeships right now, with seemingly endless negative statistical releases, and the subsequent gloomy headlines that accompany them. From the employers which have used a meagre 10 per cent of their Apprenticeship levy funds in the first year of it, to the NHS’ decreased Apprenticeship starts, it seems to be a sea of bad news stories for something which should be transformational. In fact, it’s so gloomy in the world of Apprenticeships right now, with a year on year drop in starts of around 28 per cent, that there’s something quite seductive about the idea of just generating the numbers to fight the negative messages in the marketplace. But no matter how much we might like to do so, as a sector we need to resist this pressure to jump on the ‘fast fashion’ bandwagon of knocking out as many Apprenticeships as we can.
As a College Group which has grown significantly over the past eight years we have always been wedded to one key truth; that for us to be successful, we need to serve our communities, adding value to them as a whole. In fact, it’s such an important tenet of what we do, that it’s at the heart of our mission statement. And in order to really add value, and ensure that the communities we serve get maximum benefit, stacking education high, and selling it cheap is the antithesis of what we aspire to.
That philosophy also needs to apply to those employers who are looking for an apprentice too. It’s about making an investment in the future of the company, and by default the community in which they’re based. Ensuring the Apprentice receives their 20 per cent of off the job training time, and employers are paying their fees are key. Why? Because it develops the buy in which is necessary to make sure that the Apprentice is nurtured in their role, and given the tools they need to succeed. And if that Apprentice succeeds because they’ve had the best experience possible, then they’ll add many times that initial cost back into society – and the employer – through the skills they’ve developed. While it’s easy to hark back to a ‘golden era’ of Apprenticeships, lamenting the forgotten principles of tradecraft, it’s important not to do so too often. That’s because we have moved on. However, the core of an Apprenticeship should remain the same; namely that it’s not a numbers game, it’s a skills game – if we “stack ‘em high, and sell ‘em cheap” we do a disservice not just to our Apprentices, but also to society when their impact isn’t as great as it could be. And for educationalists, ensuring that we serve our learners and our communities, and therefore society, should really be at the heart of everything we do. If it isn’t, surely we need to reflect on why that is, and whether we should still be in this sector?