When I was kid (Note: I’m 46 now so it was a long time ago!) apprenticeships and university degrees were talked about as equals.
One of my best pals was 16 when he got an apprenticeship at a screen printers and he’s still there three decades later.
I remember my dad’s careers advice to me: “Son, you never see a good plumber or electrician out of work.”
You had to be really clever to go to university so not many people did.
Then, in 1999, prime minister Tony Blair gave a speech in which he said that 50 per cent of all young people should take part in higher education.
In a stroke going to university was seen as an entitlement. Then tuition fees were introduced and at a whopping £9,000-a-year it’s now not unusual for graduates to leave saddled with £50,000 of debt.
I’m not decrying people’s right to go to university but I am saying it’s not the only show in town and it’s not right for everybody.
Perhaps more worrying is the drop in apprentices. According to the government there were 232,700 apprenticeship starts in the six months to February 2018, compared to 309,000 during the same period a year earlier. The 25 per cent drop has fuelled demands for reform of the new levy system imposed on companies to pay for such training.
Why does all this matter? The answer is that recruitment and the skills gap is regularly identified as the number one challenge identified by businesses at the various events I host.
One such event was the Liverpool Skills Summit in June at The Contact Company in Birkenhead, where two panels of business and education leaders said more must be done to close the UK’s widening skills gap and better prepare young people for work.
One of the speakers was the impressive 24-year-old Lewis Wooding-Smith (pictured above with me), who is an apprentice at Peel Ports, which supports apprentices across a range of different roles, mainly in engineering but also in other disciplines including digital marketing.
Peel Ports don’t employ apprentices as a box tick exercise or because of some misguided corporate social responsibility. They do it because it’s good for business.
Apprenticeships are a great way for people to learn while they earn and avoid the mountain of debt faced by graduates.
The benefits for companies are obvious. They get to address the skills gap and tailor the training and development pathways to meet the future needs of the organisation.
Like my pal from school apprentices tend to stay longer than graduates and work their way up through the company – with many ending up running the firm in time.
There will always be a place for traditional graduates but getting the right mix with apprentices is crucial to meeting the needs of a modern business.