Apprenticeships are fundamentally about combining working, learning, and earning. For young people this is an attractive combination, and this should be the case for employers too. It's encouraging to see so many businesses already on board with Apprenticeships – understanding their value and impact – but there are still some that are yet to experience their benefits.
The introduction of the new Apprenticeship Levy and the new Apprenticeship standards have encouraged businesses to think again about Apprenticeships. That said, the Levy has caused some unease from the business community, and more needs to be done to underscore the results these programmes can deliver.
For HR teams, Apprenticeships will be amongst the myriad of jobs on the to-do list. Yet, the benefits Apprenticeships bring are well proven and when done well, are a very compelling offer. Whilst the Levy may add another layer of administration for some businesses and teams, the return on investment will be worth the extra effort. Apprentices are known for their loyalty and productivity, both of which are attractive when businesses are looking to hire new staff.
To understand how Apprenticeships make such a difference it is worth looking at how Apprenticeships have changed over time, how employers have adapted to these changes, and the benefits Apprenticeships can bring:
Apprenticeships' place in education and society
Apprenticeships have been around for hundreds of years. Before the industrial age, it was thought that youngsters serving an Apprenticeship would enter the adult workplace with not just better-developed skills but also a sense of what was required to be a good citizen. They provided a structured and measured way of learning and earning.
"The key factor differentiating an apprenticeship in history from other forms of training was the expectation that young people would learn 'on the job', with doing most if not all of their training at work, delivered by a practitioner, a senior worker or an employer." [McIntosh, 2005, p.251]
By the end of the 19th century a decline in the numbers of young people entering Apprenticeships had prompted calls from philanthropic bodies and government to support and retain them. This demonstrates the need for Apprenticeships to have the backing from businesses and industry – ideally having them inform and shape them, like we are seeing today.
Another downturn in the popularity of Apprenticeships in the 1970s prompted similar moves from government to revitalise these schemes. At this time, Apprenticeships were seen as a less academic path, instead of a valid option for all. The launch of the Modern Apprenticeship was welcomed in 1995, which led to the start of a new Apprenticeship era.
As Apprenticeship programmes have modernised and developed they have expanded from more traditional trades to programmes that work across different subjects and sectors. Accountancy, for instance, benefits from putting theory into real life situations, which is why Apprenticeships work so well in this setting. In recent years, Apprenticeships have had the makeover they deserve, which has rightly helped them appeal to a broader range of young people and businesses.
In the mid-19th century, no 'master' could have more than three apprentices at one time, so the quality of training and individual attention was assured. Anybody taking on an apprentice would receive a fee (the premium) usually paid by an apprentice's parents or by a charity. In return, apprentices would receive board and lodgings and training from their masters, while the masters benefited from their free labour, especially valuable in the later years of the term of Apprenticeship when the learners would be more skilled, and could be expected to work independently.
Times have quite clearly changed, but the idea of a reciprocal relationship remains. An employer invests in the apprentice, and in turn, that apprentice invests in their employer. All with the support and guidance of training providers and government. In fact, the Levy means that Apprenticeship training will be more affordable for all businesses – Levy payers or not. The government will pay up to 90% of Apprenticeship training costs for non-Levy payers, meaning that more businesses and young people can benefit.
But what are the tangible benefits for employers? Well, from the National Apprenticeship Service, we know that 89% of employers say apprentices make their business more productive. Additionally, 75% of apprentice employers have found Apprenticeships help to lower recruitment costs, and 80% say that Apprenticeships will play a bigger part in their future recruitment plans.
Industrialisation had seen the development of many new trades whose Apprenticeships no longer fell under those covered by the Tudor regulations. Yet the repeal of the law governing Apprenticeships did not end systems of a fixed period of intensive training of younger people by employers, with expectations on both sides. Many trades continued to offer Apprenticeships throughout the 19th century although there were important changes. The seven-year term for all trades was no longer required. Indentures were replaced with looser, locally determined agreements. These passed the responsibility for determining the terms of an apprenticeship from the state to the individual employer, although the contracts were still legally binding.
In a modern workplace, life is very different. Apprentices are treated the same as every other employee, and are fully integrated into teams and business structures. They are nurtured and supported in their learning, and employers and HR teams work with them closely to ensure their qualifications and ambitions are achieved. At first, school-leavers experience a different environment to the classroom they may be used to, but with the right support from training providers, HR teams and line managers, the acclimatisation can be swift.
In the 1800s, serving an Apprenticeship with an employer dedicated to developing a young person's skills was seen as the best way of combatting a worrying rise in so-called 'Blind Alley' jobs – jobs that offered youngsters comparatively high wages when they left school, then fired them when they turned 18 to replace them with new school leavers.
Nowadays, Apprenticeships are still an attractive opportunity for school or college leavers and those looking to change career by gaining a qualification through work-based learning. They are also a very credible alternative to other routes, such as traditional university degrees. There is a responsibility on the young person to approach the opportunity in a professional manner. Additionally, providers and employers need to closely monitor progress, providing mentoring and pastoral support for learners to help them balance work and life and to stay the course.
There are some great new incentives for business to participate in schemes, including a 90% subsidy plus £1,000 cash for any under 19 year old given an Apprenticeship, and National Insurance reductions for under 25s.
From the Statute of Artificers standards in Tudor times, where all apprentices had to serve a fixed term of at least seven years and would be under 24 at its end, to the introduction of the new Apprenticeship Levy in 2017, guidance and frameworks for delivering an Apprenticeship have continually changed. However, the principles remain the same – providing opportunities and benefits for young people and employers.
Article by Richard Marsh, Apprenticeship Partner Director at Kaplan. Historical support for the article comes from Krista Cowman, Professor of History & Director of Research at University of Lincoln.
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