Apprentices must be heard

Julia Chippendale says it is time for policymakers to listen to young people on the apprenticeships frontline.

Julia Chippendale, managing director, EAL - part of the Semta Group.
Julia Chippendale, managing director, EAL – part of the Semta Group.

It is now four years since the Industry Apprentice Council (IAC) was first brought together by EAL and it has done some ground-breaking work ensuring the voices of apprentices are heard in both the corridors of power and the wider country.

Despite this, the IAC has just completed its third survey – its biggest ever – and it shows the information regarding the opportunities that apprenticeships offer continues to be woefully inadequate.

Crucially too, it has called for professional qualifications and accreditation as standard to ensure apprenticeships get the recognition they deserve and quality is maintained.

We live in uncertain times as the fallout of Brexit continues to be played out, but would argue one area we cannot afford to ignore is skills. We need our workforce of tomorrow to have validated skills to fill the gaps in advanced manufacturing, and engineering and keep the economy vibrant.

If government is to attain its target of 3 million apprentices in this Parliament and prepare youngsters for work in a changing political as well as economic climate, then focus on apprenticeships and qualifications needs to remain centre stage.

Industry Apprentices Coucil Five Point Plan - EAL Semta
On the back of its survey, the IAC has launched a five-point plan to MPs and employers.

On the back of its survey, the IAC, which is now managed by EAL’s parent company Semta, has launched a five-point plan to MPs and employers who in turn need to help get the message out to educators and parents.

We have an established learner voice – we are challenging government to use the IAC as the vehicle to hear directly from learners themselves. The Institute for Apprenticeships (IFA) can work with us to utilise these apprentices and allow them to have a valid contribution to apprenticeship reforms.

Placing employers at the heart of the reforms is right for UK plc, but we believe they should be listening to the people who are experiencing apprenticeships daily.

The five-point plan to boost apprenticeships formulated by apprentices themselves, will seek to; ensure the quality of apprenticeships is protected through qualifications as the quantity increases; ask employers to make apprentices more aware of career options; reform careers advice; ensure employers offer progression routes to apprentices capable of pursuing them, and set up an NUS-style body to represent apprentices’ interests.

This is a sensible plan, owned by the young people themselves and it is down to all of us to put it into action.

The results of the 2016 IAC survey show clearly why such an action plan is required:

  • Careers advice is still in crisis – dropped back to 2014 satisfaction levels
  • 50% of respondents found out about their apprenticeship through their own initiative – just 15% found out from a teacher or careers adviser
  • Only 24% were actively encouraged to take up an apprenticeship by educators
  • 84% had not heard of the planned apprenticeship levy
  • 70% are unaware of the government’s 3 million apprentice target
  • 75% want a professional accreditation as standard

The new government must put skills at the very top of their agenda if the country is to thrive outside the EU. Failure to do so could undo so much of the good work to give apprenticeships the stature they deserve.