UK apprenticeships are no-brainers

Nikos Savvas
Nikos Savvas
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In our award-obsessed society, where examination results are the be-all and end-all and schools are measured and tested, measured and tested ad nauseum, with some children singled out as ‘gifted and talented’, it’s about time we awarded more kudos to apprenticeships, vocational education and skilled trades. Because, without them, we’d be in trouble.

I am slightly exasperated with the aura that surrounds university, as if it were the only path to enlightenment and success, as if the very idea of heading in any other direction is somehow second rate. University education has its place, but it is not the only way to a successful career or life.

According to a recent report from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), most graduates in the UK are in jobs where they do not need a degree and ‘over qualification’ is at saturation point.

I think it’s about time we, as a society, appreciated the value of apprenticeships and get rid of this silly and outdated idea that learning whilst doing is somehow inferior to a graduate career. Both are equally valuable.

Take for instance Helen, who some years ago left a Psychology degree halfway through, returned to Suffolk, started a Hairdressing apprentice with us and now owns the salon, and Robert, who has just now secured himself a full time job with the East Anglia Railway Museum, after being their apprentice. He now even line manages their new apprentice. The circle of life!

Apprenticeships have been a system of preparation that has been, until recently almost totally ignored. Regarded in the same way as the Hovis bread adverts and steam engines, with sentimentality and mutterings of ‘they were good for then’ and images of blacksmiths and young boys covered in sweat and grime somewhere in the mix.

Of course the reality nowadays is the complete opposite, with apprenticeships being offered in the most leading and cutting edge industries.

We ourselves are about to launch new apprenticeships in Applied Science, Forensic Science and Health Science. Developed specifically because Science is a key strategic growth occupation for the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership. The science and innovation industry offers a very secure career opportunity as the government is heavily funding research and ensuring the UK is at the cutting edge.

Companies already on board to deliver this programme include Sanofi, The Animal Health Trust and Cambridge University Chemistry Department; companies normally extremely competitive to get into via the normal recruitment route.

Having a strong apprenticeship training programme is vital to the future of the majority of businesses in the UK. The importance of finding talented young individuals and developing their skills so they can take businesses forward in the future can’t be underestimated. John Longworth, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce, agrees, saying pretty much everything needed in one sentence: “Apprenticeships are good for business and good for individuals.”

In a nutshell, apprenticeships offer experience, which is just as important as knowledge, as everybody knows. So many young people face the revolving door of no experience, no work, but they can’t get experience because they can’t get work. Round and round they go. Getting a foot in the door is always half the battle for young people. And a good foot placement cannot be underestimated. Apprenticeships allow them to not only get their feet in, but their hearts, head and talent and really show what they can do.

In just over a week it’s National Apprenticeship Week (March 14-18), and it’s time we viewed apprenticeships as worthy as every other educational choice. I want to hear more young people stating, ‘I’m the first person in my family who didn’t go to university but did an apprenticeship’, as proudly as those who can say the opposite.

As one of our apprentices said to me recently, ‘It’s a no brainer really’.

-- Nikos Savvas is principal at West Suffolk College, Bury St Edmunds