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Modern apprenticeships have grown up

Announce you’ve decided to do an apprenticeship and many will assume you either failed to get into university or you want to be a tradesman. “A lot of parents and teachers don’t understand that pretty much everything from law to web developing can be accessed through a modern apprenticeship,” says Nick Boles, minister of state for skills and equalities.

The landscape has moved on, he says: “You can get a degree through an apprenticeship, so it’s not about capping your ambition. It’s a choice to secure the qualification through working and studying rather than full-time study.”

Boles knows that apprenticeships have a bit of an image problem and is keen to address it: “We just need to get the message out that these are very high-quality programmes.”

June Durrant, deputy principal at Kirklees College in Huddersfield, agrees: “The hard thing is getting people to understand that modern apprenticeships aren’t an ‘oily rag’ route – that’s not the real picture any more.”

This is certainly the case for former Kirklees student Luke Warby, 19, who is now employed by IT firm ProVu after completing a level 3 apprenticeship in professional competence in IT for telecoms professionals combined with a level 3 in IT systems and principles.

“I found out about the apprenticeship from my progress coach at the college,” he says. “As well as the more technical aspects of the job, I’ve learned how to deal with customers with different levels of understanding, so I’ve become more confident when it comes to things like dealing with people on the telephone. I was even awarded an apprentice of the year award last year, so it’s been a really good experience all round.”

Warby’s boss, ProVu managing director Darren Garland, says that taking on apprentices has given his small business – he has just 20 employees – a cost-effective way to get staff up to speed. “We have to train for 6-8 months before we see a return, so we look for potential – that can be a graduate or an apprentice. We weren’t sure how well it would work at first, but taking on Luke and another apprentice, Matt, was such an absolute success we took on a third.”

For many apprentices, the experience of being able to learn on the job provides them with a valuable insight into their chosen career and helps them to make decisions sooner. Rupinder Kooner, 18, from Wolverhampton, is in her third year of a building services in the built environment apprenticeship with WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff. It’s an area she might not have chosen had she decided to go to university first.

“I can transfer to something like civil engineering or railways, but I’m enjoying my current role so much I’m hoping to progress through an HNC and HND, and then I’ll only need to study for a year to top up to a degree. I’ll probably do that part-time while working at WSP – so I’ll get my qualification without all the student debt, as well as getting lots of experience in the workplace.”

Kooner agrees with Boles that the perception of apprenticeships needs to change. “I came out of school with 12 GCSEs, but when I said I wanted to do an apprenticeship, people assumed I wasn’t doing well in school, which wasn’t true.”

But Mel Clark, senior recruitment specialist at WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff says businesses have a more generous view: “For us, apprenticeships are a valid alternative to university. They are much more aligned to what we do as a business and go a long way to addressing the skills shortage in our industry.”