What does the future of apprenticeships look like? 
In 1991, I started an apprenticeship through the then Youth Training Scheme (YTS), even though the pay was extremely low at £28 per 40-hour week, it gave me the opportunity to learn new skills and ultimately led the path for all my future career. Fast forward 30+ years and a lot of things have changed but in equal measure, some things have remained stagnant. 
In 2003, my career took a different route as I moved from the workshop floor into the training room when I started training automotive apprentices for Volkswagen Passenger Cars, later on moving into the management of the apprenticeship programme. During this time, the government funding for apprenticeships attracted some training organisations that tended to view apprentices as “funding units” as opposed to individuals. This often led to a culture where it was more about achievement at all costs to maximise commercial gain for the training provider.  
This focus on profit over the needs of the individual apprentice was personally uncomfortable for me as it could sometimes lead to pushing individuals through the qualification at a pace that genuinely did not suit them or their current skills
One of the elements of apprenticeship programmes that has remained constant is public perception of apprenticeships – there continues to be the view that an apprenticeship is a lesser career route for a young person to take when measured against the full time University route. This is what I’d like to ‘unpick’ a little in this blog. 
Why do apprenticeships continue to be seen as a lesser route? 
Firstly, I’m not saying that everyone thinks like this as clearly that isn’t the case but it does seem that a large proportion of society continue to be focused on the full time academic route to give them the best start to their career. I personally remember a focus shift when New Labour came to power in 1997; with changes to tuition fees and a focus on social mobility, it became clear that the full time University route was the better option for people setting out on their career. This is a narrative that continues to this day and is showing little sign of changing anytime soon even though within government, there is now talk of restricting certain degrees that are not seen as leading to higher paid careers. There also seems to be a narrative that the full time University degree route is some kind of a ‘rite of passage’ for young people as they need to have the ‘uni experience’ even though less than 30% of leavers go on to use their degree for work purposes. This leaves individuals saddled with debt that they are unlikely to pay back meaning their higher education that is not fully utilised continues to be subsidised by the tax payer. According to an article published in the Independent newspaper in 2020, nearly half of sixth formers feel pressure to go to university, with 65% of university leavers stating they had regrets about going to university. The most interesting statistic stated in this article is that 47% of sixth formers were not aware of the option to pursue a degree level apprenticeship
So, what has changed? 
In 2017, the government introduced the Apprenticeship Levy which effectively taxed businesses with a wage bill over £3 million and the money raised was held in a ring-fenced pot for all businesses to draw down from to support the costs of training an apprentice within their business. Now in principle this has to be a good thing, however as with all government incentives, there is an amount of red tape to deal with for a business to be able to draw down from their levy pot and as a result an awful lot of businesses didn’t make the most of this opportunity. Six years on from the introduction of the levy, there are still many businesses that are not utilising the funding available to them. 
So, what still needs to change? 
This is not a definitive list but, in my opinion the key areas of focus should come from three directions: government policy, career narrative in schools and industries
The government needs to make a shift change from the full-time university route to the degree level apprenticeship route and this requires the ministers in government to talk more about this to support the promotion of the concept. 
Part of this shift change is to place greater focus back onto careers advice in schools instead of just leaving it up to the individual schools to decide. Don’t forget an awful lot of teachers in school have never left the education sector so have little, if any, knowledge of industry outside of education so how can we expect them to promote something they don’t understand! 
Government also needs to support industry more with the  
development of linking lower-level qualifications (level 3 and level 4) to higher level qualifications - currently there are not always clear pathways from current non degree apprenticeships into degree level qualification. Businesses not already engaged with degree level apprenticeships need to engage with their industry bodies to start lobbying government for critical change in this area. Generally speaking, it is only very large organisations that offer these higher-level apprenticeships so there is a large gap that needs bridging. Industry also needs to engage with training providers to build these links between the lower and higher-level qualifications which can then be approved by the formal education sector (the government) which will then allow them to utilise the levy pot to fund these qualifications. This could be referred to as a ‘build it and they will come’ scenario! 
All of this will naturally then lead to a change in societal view of apprenticeships and eventually become self-fulfilling as parents start guiding their children in a different direction. 
This is a very complicated subject area and I have had many conversations with individuals and businesses about it but one thing is always clear, you can’t wait for others to start the change, you have to be the change! 
It’s not good enough to just keep talking about this, in my opinion something has to change! 
Dave Bownes 
Haynes Oliver Limited 
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