Over the last few years the image and perception of Apprenticeships has undoubtedly changed for the better. Traditionally seen as a job for a school leaver, much work has been done to position Apprenticeships as an attractive and credible alternative to university and with more and more firms opening up fantastic schemes aimed at young people leaving school, ground has definitely been made to achieve this.
But there is an interesting shift in the Apprenticeship dynamic that has not gained as many headlines but potentially could undo much of the hard work we've done to position Apprenticeships more positively: graduates on Apprenticeship schemes.
At one level there is the concern that an influx of graduates could push school leavers off Apprenticeship places but on another, there is a fear that if you call a graduate scheme an ‘Apprenticeship', they won't want to apply – leading to debate around the Apprenticeship brand.
Graduates on Apprenticeship schemes are a relatively new trend as previous rules had always prohibited those with anything higher than a foundation degree (Level 4) from being eligible for government funding.
In addition up until very recently most Apprenticeships available were at relatively low levels of attainment so it could be argued many graduates would be over qualified to embark on one.
However, the recent push by the government to create Apprenticeships at Degree and Masters levels has opened up a whole new market for those leaving university who, in theory, can now do an Apprenticeship at a level higher than that of their degree. As an added bonus, this would now also make them eligible for funding. What this means in practice is that many employers, with the Levy looming large over their training budgets, are looking at how they can train a whole new intake of graduates via an Apprenticeship route.
Graduates aren't only progressing onto higher level Apprenticeships, with new Apprenticeship standards being focused on job roles there are now cases where graduates with a non-relevant degree are being funded on lower levels of Apprenticeships (from May 2017 onwards) with the argument that their degree didn't teach them the necessary knowledge or skills to perform in that role. The Apprenticeship training is therefore needed, it is argued, to get their skills up to scratch.
As an increasing number of firms look to transition their graduate schemes over to Apprenticeships, a question we are asked frequently is 'do we have to call it an Apprenticeship?' with a fear that this may put graduates off applying or lessen the image of the scheme internally. This would appear a very fair concern given the traditional association of Apprenticeships with school leavers.
But we would argue that if we are to continue to make headway, Apprenticeships shouldn't be a term to avoid. If we look at the actual meaning of the word Apprenticeship (going back to its French and Latin routes): "someone in a state of learning from a master in the field". This doesn't mandate the age or background of the apprentice but focuses on somebody learning a profession – be that as a plumber, a broadcast engineer, doctor or an accountant. Very few professions nowadays take on graduates who would hit the ground running; most require some form of structured training so should Apprenticeships really just be the domain of the school leaver?
Any investment in skills and training should be seen as a positive step to improving our ability to compete in a post-Brexit world. We should embrace the term Apprenticeship, not look to shy away from it and look forward to the day when the government's ambition is "An Apprenticeship for everybody" whatever the route taken to start one.
By Cassandra Macdonald, Head of Client Solutions: Apprenticeships at Kaplan