I used to think only car mechanics, plumbers and joiners were apprentices. My mate did a joinery apprenticeship and he was my only point of reference. I laughed at him as he was in the minority. The rest of us went to do A-Levels. He wasnt an academic high flyer. I still loved him though. He was, to use my school vernacular, a top lad. The teachers used to say to him have you considered an apprenticeship? because he wasnt university material. I laughed even more. I equated his career pathway with poverty and depravation. He couldnt possibly compete with university types.
He now has his own business and lives like a king. He used his joinery skills and learnt plastering on the side. He won contracts and hired people. I bet he thanks his lucky stars that he got that careers advice at school.
Trouble is, the teachers gave him that advice out of sympathy. They thought he wasnt going to succeed. They sold apprenticeships as the route for dumb kids.
That attitude still exists. There is a mentality in education that apprenticeships are for people who arent university material. Never has this opinion been more misguided. Nowadays, the range on offer is comprehensive. Real alternatives to HE exist. They probably always did. Now, as then, these opportunities receive little publicity in schools.
However, a study by YouGov demonstrated that only 8% of people are encouraged to apply for apprenticeships by their schools. This 8% will be the people who arent deemed university material. The 8% then google apprenticeships and are then the people who apply for these vacancies. Other students are encouraged to apply for university, blissfully ignorant they could achieve similar career aspirations through an apprenticeship.
The failure rate for apprenticeships now stands at 30%. The CBI cite an increase in standards and rigour as the culprit. This makes sense. If were only encouraging the people who perform poorly in their education to apply for apprenticeships, then failure rates will increase if we introduce tougher requirements.
The remedy is to encourage students who wouldnt ordinarily consider an apprenticeship to pursue one. This encouragement isnt forthcoming from schools (at least in general. There are some forward thinking places who are doing so). To get around this, we need employers to infiltrate the curriculum and provide a true picture of what they value and the current opportunities available. Students need to know the breadth of apprenticeships on offer.
Apprenticeships need greater prominence. Switzerland is ranked second in the world on GDP per capita. Their HE sector is small and they offer plenty of technical on-the-job training. Were the opposite. We strive for qualifications. Our productivity languishes compared with other developed nations. Apprenticeships have the power to solve this issue. If we continue to promote this route to only our worst students, however, our economy will continue to suffer.