Apprenticeships are on the rise, but more needs to be done to counter negative stereotypes about them

Apprenticeships not 'poor cousin' of the degree

Apprenticeships should not be seen as the poor cousin of the degree, according to the head of the IET.

Chief executive Nigel Fine admitted he was “preaching to the converted” as he opened the IET’s Apprenticeship Conference in London this morning by highlighting the on-going skills shortage in the engineering and IT sectors.

The event saw delegates from industry, government and the education sector gather to discuss how to boost the uptake of apprenticeship places to help fill vital vacancies, in particular at technician level.

“As we all know UK engineering and IT do suffer significantly from a skills shortage, particularly at technician level,” said Fine. “There is demand for 69,000 people qualified to advanced apprentice level or higher each year and the sad fact is that we are only supplying 27,000.”

But key to boosting numbers, according to Fine is removing the stigma that apprenticeships are not as valuable as a degree.

“It is certainly not the poor cousin of the academic route and it is likely to be an increasingly important route for the future,” he said.

“Engineering and IT technicians are vitally important to the UK and our economy. They have skills and expertise that this country needs to deliver 21st century systems, services and products,” he added.

“Technicians do not receive adequate recognition for the pivotal role they play in the work place and that’s a fact.”

MP Gordon Birtwistle, the Government’s Apprenticeship Ambassador to Business, echoed the call to change the way the public thinks about apprenticeships, starting with parents.

“Tony Blair told everyone 60 per cent of people had to go to university,” he said. “That convinced parents that if you haven’t been to uni you have failed. Believe me if you haven’t been to uni you certainly have not failed and we have to change that idea among parents.”

He also said that careers advice at schools needed to be improved and broadened as in his experience most careers advisors were simply teachers, who often knew little about industry and engineering.

He said: “They tell young people at school, ‘if you don’t pass your exams you’ll have to go and work in that factory down the road’. Never mind the fact that that factory might make the most fantastic jet engines in the world, ‘you will end up in that factory’. And that’s outrageous.”

But Glen Crocker, from the National Apprenticeships Service, was keen to emphasise that progress was being made – 520,000 apprenticeships were started in 2011/12, compared with around a quarter of a million a year in the 1960s and only 53,000 in 1990.

And the success of the programmes since the service was instigated in 2009 has been impressive with 85 per cent of former apprentices staying in employment – 64 per cent with same employer – and 32 per cent being promoted within the first 12 months

The success rates of apprenticeships have also been steadily increasing from 31 per cent in 2004/05 to 74 per cent in 2011/12.

But Crocker also called for more employers to get involved as demand is far outstripping supply – in 2008/09 there were 50,000 applications for apprenticeships but provisional figures for this year so far have already hit 1.4 million.

“We desperately need to work with more employers and business,” he said. “The number of apprenticeships has grown but so has the number of applications and that’s something we need to consider.”

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