Apprenticeships – the Future of Learning

Thanks to the power of television, the phrase (or should I say catchphrase) “You’re hired!” now applies to apprentices far more than university graduates, trainees or qualified professionals.

And this week we have seen the spotlight focus once again on how apprenticeships are increasingly becoming a credible, alternative route into the professions, including the law, compared to the traditional pathway of university degrees and elusive trainee contracts.

First, Baker & McKenzie made the headlines in the legal press (Managing Partner to be precise) talking about how legal apprenticeships are helping to improve social mobility across the UK.

Then, Obelisk Support explored the merits of apprenticeships in all professions at our latest Wednesday Live event; London’s coolest breakfast club, offering great coffee and great debate to our clients and consultants.

We were joined in the Attic (Obelisk HQ, in Farringdon) by Jason Holt CBE, an ex-lawyer who is now CEO of Holts Group and a special adviser to the Government on apprenticeship schemes.

Jason shared both his experience and his zeal for the huge potential that apprenticeships offer to businesses large and small.

He first got involved with the world of apprenticeships on the back of a real-life business issue he faced years ago, when he struggled to find people with the right skills to work in his jewelry business.

Looking a little deeper in the issue of skills, recruitment and training, Jason discovered that so many businesses – especially small businesses – find it difficult to recruit and train new employees.

Speaking to the Wednesday Live crowd, Jason explained that given 99% of all British businesses are SMEs, this staffing issue represents an enormous obstacle to economic growth for the country.

But society, students and employers are changing, with real momentum now building around apprenticeship scheme and the opportunities they create for progressive companies and talented school leavers.

A new trend is emerging in Sixth Form centres across the UK, fueled in part by the colossal financial burden for most students of going through a three-year university degree course. Today’s A Level students are starting to ask themselves “why run up debts of £30,000 or more why I can join a great firm and ‘earn as I learn’?”

Over the years there have been a series of Government-led initiatives to reshape the workplace. Certain university courses have been promoted to help fill the skills gap in certain jobs. Programmes have been launched to create career opportunities for graduates with heavy debts and there have been schemes to address the issue of social mobility through the lack of access to higher education.

Jason said the apprenticeship model combines all three, offering people a paid job with training, experience and a career path.

And, proving 41 is the new 21, it was important to hear that modern-day apprentices can be any age.

According to Jason, the benefits for both the business and the apprentice are significant. The apprentices often enjoy a better working environment compared to graduates. And businesses get positive, hardworking and loyal
 employees plus significant financial incentives; for every £1 the government puts in to apprenticeship schemes, the business gets £26!

But, despite all the positives, there is still a stigma attached to being an apprentice. Jason said in wider society apprenticeships are not viewed or valued in the same way as university degrees. However, as more people turn to apprenticeships, this view is changing.

And given the introduction of an apprenticeship levy for any business with a payroll of £3m or more, things are highly likely to keep on changing in the years ahead.

The new levy will help pay for new training programmes across the UK – for employees to further their skills and learning at a college or within the workplace.

Jason, who advises the Government on apprenticeships, said there is a great deal of work now being done in the UK to improve the quality of training and to create new standards – based on what both apprentices and businesses need to develop and succeed.

It was at this point that Jason focused on the traditional professions, including the law, now that a growing number of firms are taking on apprenticeships. The law is lagging behind other professional sectors, such as accountancy, but there are now more and more apprenticeship schemes across a number of legal roles: solicitor, legal executive, paralegals and also support staff, accounts, IT and marketing.

One of the biggest barriers we all need to overcome is the bias, and the misunderstanding, that apprenticeships are an inferior option to university. Jason told Wednesday Live this bias begins in school. He said there are initiatives for careers and enterprise organisations to go into schools to change this culture by challenging the myths and the bias. He gave the example of the graduate and apprenticeship schemes at Rolls-Royce where the graduates who are heavily laden with debt ride bikes, whereas the apprentices who have enjoyed years of a good salary drive cars.

So, a big Obelisk thank you to Jason for a great Wednesday Live session, and thank you too to all our clients who came along, listened and then took part in the interesting discussion that followed.

Jason Holt: Making Apprenticeships More Accessible to Small and Medium-sized Enterprises