As part of national apprenticeship week, David Cameron has called for apprenticeships to become the “new norm” for school leavers who decide against going to university -wanting work-based training to sit “at the heart of our mission to rebuild the economy” (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-21734560)
Wanting the UK to emulate Germany –or at least post-war Germany! – Cameron sees the creation of apprenticeships as being central to establishing the ‘truly world class skilled workforce’ necessary to rebuild the economy. While government estimates that up to half a million apprenticeships were created between 2011 and 2012, as we argue in The Great Reversal this does not mean these have all gone to young people. It’s also the case that many apprenticeships are short term and that government subsidies are being used to re-classify existing employees as ‘apprentices’ .
In fact, the new apprenticeships being created have little in common with their post-war equivalents which after a period of ‘time serving’ allowed young people – mostly young men, many of whom left school with few qualifications – to secure life-long employment in manufacturing trades. By contrast, many of today’s schemes – like the youth training schemes of the 1980s – constitute no more than ‘apprenticeships without jobs’.
Apprenticeships may need an image change (with research showing that only about 15% of working parents believe apprenticeships have the same status as a university education – (www.peoplemanagement.co.uk/pm/articles/2013/03/poor-careers-guidance-sells-apprenticeships-short-says-cipd.htm) and Will Hutton arguing in The Observer that employers must see establishing apprenticeships as a ‘social obligation’ (www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/mar/10/alan-sugar-apprenticeships-britain?INTCMP=SRCH ).
The fact that only a minority of employers offer them also reflects the reality that by applying new technology to automate and deskill, as well as outsource abroad and contract out at home, many employers simply don’t need them. On the other hand, those schemes that do lead to real opportunities – BT, Rolls Royce and so on – experience similar levels of over-demand for places as Oxbridge.