A Great Training Robbery? Initial Research on Apprentices

A NEW DIRECTION FOR VOCATIONAL LEARNING OR A GREAT TRAINING ROBBERY? INITIAL RESEARCH INTO AND ANALYSIS OF THE REINVENTION OF APPRENTICESHIPS AT THE START OF THE 21ST CENTURY

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                         ESRC Seminar   28/02/14    Martin Allen & Patrick Ainley

The new emphasis placed on apprenticeships by the Coalition (achieving 1.5 million starts since coming to office) is a response to the increasing difficulties young people face in entering the labour market, but also the need to provide alternatives to a higher education system fuelled by mountains of unpaid student debt and a generation of graduates who are ‘overqualified and underemployed’. It is also a response to a long-standing perceived UK skills crisis at ‘intermediate’ and ‘technical’ level with the CBI arguing that the UK cannot rely on traditional degree courses to meet all the needs of key industries such as manufacturing, construction, IT and engineering.

This contribution argues that, rather than contributing to increased economic prosperity, most of this latest crop of apprenticeships have been low skilled and ‘dead end’, aimed at regrading existing workers as much as recruiting and upskilling young people. Forty years after Ivar Berg’s Education and Jobs, The Great Training Robbery noted, ‘America fools many of its young by linking job opportunities to diplomas and degrees from schools that provide sometimes pitifully inadequate – indeed appalling – experiences’ (1973, 29), the main benefactors of this latest Great Training Robbery have been private training agencies.

The second part of the study assesses the future of apprenticeships. It contrasts the system of apprenticeships in the UK with the German ‘dual system’ – frequently cited as a model the UK could emulate – examining differences in state formation and culture. But it also questions the arguments and assumptions about employment and skills on which the latest expansion of apprenticeships have been based. In conclusion, an alternative approach related to higher vocational pedagogy is suggested…….

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