Pump priming the skills pipeline

High quality apprenticeships are vital to the UK’s advanced manufacturing sector and question marks over the use of the term in some industries should not be allowed to dilute their relevance, says EAL managing director, Julia Chippendale.

Julia Chippendale, managing director, EAL
Julia Chippendale, managing director, EAL.

When the recent Ofsted report suggested too many apprenticeships were of poor quality and failed to provide the skills and knowledge employers required, my heart sank.

As the debate over the skills landscape rages, EAL and the Semta Group as a whole has been consistent in warning the apprenticeship brand should not be devalued with too many low-skilled roles being allowed to use the term for their training schemes.

An apprenticeship in our sector provides a direct, rigorous and effective pathway to a career.

EAL qualifications sit clearly within apprenticeship frameworks and act as a guarantee to current and future employers that each apprentice has the skills and abilities needed to succeed in industry.

Apprentices are given the opportunity to flourish, learning practical and relevant skills while gaining a genuine understanding of the workplace.

They are often over four years, can lead to degree equivalent qualifications and, in many cases, are more valuable to employers than academic qualifications alone.

It is why we have to redouble our efforts to differentiate the real high quality apprenticeships providing high level professional skills from those that don’t.

The Industry Apprentice Council – set up and funded by EAL – has become a positive force for change.

The Industry Apprenticeship Council outside the Houses of Parliament
The Industry Apprenticeship Council outside the Houses of Parliament.

But the young apprentices from a range of companies have consistently highlighted the stigma and prejudice they faced following the vocational route, proving there is much work still to do to have apprenticeships seen on an equal footing with universities.

We also need to keep those with higher level STEM skills in industry – there is no shortage of qualified personnel but too many of them go outside of STEM when they graduate – for example 12,000 engineering graduates work in the financial sector.

We must work even more closely with employers; regulators; government departments, and agencies to ensure sufficiently robust qualifications and skills development are achieved through high quality vocational education and training.

Too often the focus is on large employers when it is in fact the supply chain – those small and medium enterprises – where innovation is the engine which is powering the UK’s economy. They need the support.

If employers don’t have a workforce with the right skills they will struggle to keep up with established nations such as Germany – where engineers are revered and there are 40 Level 3 apprentices per thousand employees (it is six in the UK) – and the emerging  economies such as India, which is producing 1.5 million engineers a year.

EAL Semta Skills PQ Dec 2015It is the global skills landscape where we need to compete, but in order to so we must radically change attitudes to vocational skills among academics; government; teachers; parents, and some young people themselves if we are to see the UK remain a world class, thriving manufacturing base.

It is more important than ever to equip the workforce with the skills and attributes employers are looking for. Semta and EAL will continue to do what we can to ensure this happens.