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Apprenticeships: a new definition

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17 January 2018

Changes to the way we deliver apprenticeships are good news for businesses. But first we need to create a new understanding of what an apprentice is, says Eurocell’s learning and development team member, David Leighton-Berry.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines an apprentice as
‘a person who is learning a trade from a skilled employer, having agreed to work for a fixed period at low wages’. dlb1

Most people would probably think of an apprenticeship in this way. But they would be wrong. Apprenticeships offer so much more than that. They are a way for companies to upskill and develop existing employees – as well as a means of attracting potential future talent of all ages.

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At Eurocell, for instance, we have an office manager who is working towards his Chartered Management Institute level 5 qualification at Sheffield University, which is equivalent to a foundation degree. Another colleague is training for a frontline management qualification, studying at Sheffield College.

Changes to the way we deliver apprenticeships came from a review by entrepreneur and educator Doug Richard, published in late 2012. Previously, the apprenticeship qualifications - known as frameworks - were poorly supported, defined and executed, and the result was that apprentices were sometimes gaining a qualification without attaining all the skills and knowledge they needed for a particular role.

The new model calls for apprentice schemes to be far more employer-led. The idea is that apprentices will have the right skills, knowledge and behaviours at the end of an apprenticeship programme. And they will be tested both during and at the end of the process to ensure that they have.

The Richard Review also led to the introduction of the apprenticeship levy. All firms whose wages bill is over £3m must pay into a pot and can then draw out of that pot to fund apprenticeships at every level.

From a learning and development perspective, this is a positive change. We can now go to our board with a business case that explains how we can best spend the money already in our levy pot to meet the needs of our company. It’s a much easier ‘sell’ than trying to explain why we need a bigger training and development budget.

There are still some hurdles to clear before we can really start reaping the rewards of this new approach. Sponsoring bodies and employers are busy setting up trail blazer trials to work out how to best deliver apprenticeships at various levels, such as the very recent work that we are supporting with customers and competitors on the Fenestration Industry Trailblazers.

Another significant challenge is a lack of competent training providers. Many of them were set up to operate under the old system and are ill-prepared to move to the new model. I would advise anyone looking for training providers to go to the relevant sponsoring body and ask for recommendations or to speak to us in the Learning and Development team at Eurocell.

The other major barrier we face is the stigma that the word ‘apprentice’ holds for many people. We must all spread the message that apprenticeships are not about paying rookies low wages to do menial tasks. They are about building skills and competencies for individuals and for the businesses they are working in so that they can take on new roles and responsibilities.

When Richard launched his review, he said: “Apprenticeships need to be high quality training with serious kudos and tangible value both to the apprentice and the employer. I want to hear about an 18-year-old who looked at their options and turned down a place at Oxbridge to take up an apprenticeship if that is the right path for them.”

That’s a vision that Eurocell most certainly shares.