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Apprenticeships – is it time for a rebrand?

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By Ben Welply, Business Development Manager, Aptem

When you mention apprenticeships to most people – unless they are in the skills sector – they immediately think of physical, hands-on activity like carpentry or car maintenance. But while there are still many manual apprenticeships on offer, today’s apprenticeship standards also include subjects like data science and advanced forensic practitioner.

Given words have meaning, is it time for apprenticeships to have a rebrand?

Historical legacies

Mention apprenticeships to most parents and what comes to mind? Perhaps a medieval craft guild, or Mr Bumble trying to palm off Oliver Twist as an apprentice undertaker, or the route that bright, working-class youth took in the 1950s because they couldn’t afford university. In my local Facebook group, one poster asked if there were any apprenticeship opportunities available for her son. A member of the group responded with a single word – ‘trade’.

Here lies the problem and the need for the rebrand.

Being in the industry, I was able to offer the OP more help than a single word and let her know the sheer volume and scope of apprenticeships that are available and how to find them – information she was struggling to find to help her son onto the next path.

If I think back to the careers advice I received, it was very much if you get the grades, you do A- levels; and if you pass your A-levels, you go to University (Luton, in my case).

If you didn’t have the grades, you went to work. I think this is still true for many. Indeed, many parents often still see a university education as the gold standard (regardless of institution), and in many professions it is. Perhaps that is the legacy of so many bright working-class kids being denied a university education pre-1963 because then there were no grants or loans.

Apprenticeships today

However, today the landscape has changed. Apprenticeship standards are broad in scope and challenging. They start at Level 2 and go up to Level 7 (Master’s level) and, in theory, each apprenticeship could provide a stepping-stone to a higher level. 

I was discussing apprenticeship opportunities with a friend, and she mentioned that she would still want her child to have the ‘university experience’. My suggestion that she could try not doing their washing and giving them a pot noodle to eat was not the answer she was looking for!

More seriously, degree apprenticeships are very common and a huge growth area. Furthermore, students can get a degree (with all the university experience they need), leave with no debt and, very likely, a job.

A rebrand?

Rebranding apprenticeships is a question that has come up again and again. Type the phrase into Google and any number of articles will come up. Yet so far, no-one has come up with an idea as to what they should be called.

So how could apprenticeships be rebranded to be attractive to all?

Perhaps they could be subdivided? White-collar apprenticeships? Blue-collar apprenticeships? But those terms seem outdated, given high-skilled jobs can be manual and blue-collar jobs involve high level conceptual and emotional skills (think care work).

Perhaps it should focus on employability? I remember the difficulty I had obtaining my first job after graduation. I had all the knowledge but no real-world experience to back it up. Now, if I had done an apprenticeship, I would have both the knowledge and the experience. I would have been three years ahead of my peers – and without a huge student debt.

Or perhaps it doesn’t need a different word at all, just a concerted effort to promote awareness of the opportunities available. To return to my story of the Facebook poster and to offer a note to the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education – if people don’t know about the breadth of apprenticeship standards on offer, then you need a better marketing strategy.

Whatever strategy is taken, it needs urgent attention. Apprenticeships offer the possibility of an excellent qualification and skilled work no matter where you come from, and the country needs highly skilled employees. Let’s see what we can do.

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