January 24, 2020

The role of apprenticeships in the UK economy

Polly Toynbee (Going nowhere fast: the lie of apprenticeships, 9 April) provides a much-needed focus on the dire state of apprenticeship provision in England. The recent report of the Commission on London at King’s College London set out how to start tackling this. The mayor of London – and the regional mayors across England – need to be given new powers to manage the delivery of skills provision in their area. London should first be given a share of the unspent apprenticeship levy to manage as it sees fit. This will build on the current plans for the adult education budget to be given to the mayor. The mayor should then be given the job to provide strategic coordination to skills and apprenticeships across London, targeting crucial shortages, including construction, hi-tech and creative industries. Making skills a top priority for the mayor will help tackle the lack of status and esteem for apprenticeships and level the playing field in London with universities.
Tony Halmos
Director, Commission on London

There is much truth in Polly Toynbee’s article. But the real lie is that apprenticeships are somehow superior to FE college courses. Even in practical subjects such as servicing motor vehicles or the construction trades, a college course offers a carefully structured progression through the elements of the subject, supplemented by development of practical skills in college workshops. Students are taught by staff who are dedicated to developing people and skills, rather than finishing a job to a given timescale. After a couple of years of a college course, students are ready for skilled employment or to go on to develop higher skills. It is a myth that an apprenticeship automatically offers better preparation.

The companies praised by Polly Toynbee for the quality of their apprenticeships are large enough to have dedicated training schools that do much the same job as a FE college, but they are few and far between. Many of the remainder contribute to the problem of low-quality apprenticeships identified in the article. It is to be regretted that many excellent college courses have suffered from transfer of funding to apprenticeships and from being portrayed as inferior to them.
Mike Lee
Rossendale, Lancashire

Polly Toynbee is too kind to the government’s design of the apprenticeships scheme, 9 April), which was wrecked by “consultations” – for which read meetings with lobbyists, who castrated the scheme from the start by failing to impose sufficient obligations on employers to make apprenticeships work when they disliked them. She recognises the value of good schemes by a very few firms, but it is no accident that many firms think they can avoid them.

The scheme is a failure of imagination, modelled on a much watered-down version of good French and German training programmes, rather than something that would be effective in the context of British education before 18. Polly is also too kind on those firms which she criticises, but not fiercely enough, that would much rather imagine their future poaching skilled workers from rivals than training their own, a habit so ingrained in British business that it requires very serious commitments to reverse it.

Finally, although Polly hints at this, the apprenticeship scheme was never going to work without a thorough overhaul of FE. This is absolutely not only about training and skills for 16- to 19-year-olds. It is about having an FE sector capable and resourced to provide lifelong learning for adults aged over 16 to meet their needs and interests, as well as those of employers. But even if enough money were found to meet the needs of FE, the sector has been so badly run down and so ill-targeted that it would not have the capacity to absorb the money until a good deal more was done first. This is a long-term problem at the root of the failure of UK productivity, economic performance and the culture of unambition among (some) younger people outside the A-level/university enclave, not a “mere” education problem to be shoved on the bottom of the spending list. Real investment in training, FE and apprenticeships would offer hope and prospects to so many people. It might even reduce youth violence, but would certainly contribute to greater national wealth and wellbeing.
Chris Farrands

The reality is that in post-industrial Britain, where low-skilled service-sector employment is increasingly becoming the norm, most employers don’t need apprentices. Neither do they want to spend money training higher-level apprentices when there is a surplus of graduates. Toynbee is right to be pessimistic about the new technical-level qualifications, but it’s not just a question of the lack of a “parity of esteem” and differences in funding between vocational and academic education. Providing another round of specialist “alternatives” in sectors of the economy where employment trends are at best uncertain will not help many of those young people unable or unwilling to progress to university. Instead, Labour should be campaigning for a good general education for all, up to the age of 18. There is no reason why this would not include the development of relevant vocational skills required in the 21st century, but it could also allow the reform of narrow academic learning, thus increasing opportunities and enthusiasm for further study.
Dr Martin Allen

Join the debate – email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Read more Guardian letters – click here to visit gu.com/letters

Rate this item
(0 votes)

Leave a comment

Make sure you enter all the required information, indicated by an asterisk (*). HTML code is not allowed.

Latest Tweets

Legislature acted correctly in repealing blue law | Editorial - Bismarck Tribune - Legislature acted correctly in r… https://t.co/PPeVkScFZr
OUS employee receives achievement award | Ohio News - Huntington Herald Dispatch - OUS employee receives achievemen… https://t.co/Eug8IHDR0N
Mt. Gox Trustee: Creditors Will Soon Receive Decisions Over Rehabilitation Claims - Cointelegraph - Mt. Gox Trustee… https://t.co/PhRPVYYgOI
Follow WDTNN on Twitter