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The Role of Apprenticeships in Lifelong Learning

Lifelong learning
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In a constantly shifting employment landscape, lifelong learning is essential. Not just to fill emerging job roles, but to ensure long and fulfilling careers. Apprenticeships offer an effective model to encourage and support lifelong learning.

Facilitating lifelong learning

Futurist Alvin Toffler, celebrated author of Future Shock, once said: “The illiterate of the future are not those who can’t read or write but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

To thrive in today’s uncertain world we all need to be committed to learning, unlearning and relearning. To prepare for success, it’s important to develop a sense of self-direction, metacognitive awareness and a positive attitude towards lifelong learning. Certain characteristics of the apprenticeship model facilitate the development of these attributes.

Metacognitive awareness is being aware of how you think and learn. It enables learners to be more mindful of what and how they are learning, and how the same knowledge or approach may be applied in other situations. Self-direction is facilitated by recognising an end goal that can provide both motivation and a sense of responsibility to propel oneself towards it. Giving learners a level of autonomy and responsibility over their progress helps to develop these faculties.

As the aim of an apprenticeship is to facilitate movement into a permanent job role, motivation is intrinsically built into the model. Earning while you learn is another motivator, giving apprentices the satisfaction that comes from being rewarded from working hard, and seeing their learning being rewarded by progressing into a higher-paid position at the end of their apprenticeship. And having to manage learning alongside working gives apprentices a degree of autonomy and responsibility for their own success.

Apprenticeships are expansive and develop the whole person, not just job-specific skills. Apprentices are taken on a journey from being a novice to becoming an expert, as well as gaining a sense of curiosity, discovery and self-improvement – all of which engender a positive disposition towards lifelong learning.

Adult apprenticeships: not just for young people

Contrary to popular perception, there is no upper age limit for undertaking an apprenticeship. Anyone over the age of 16 and not in full-time education is eligible to become an apprentice.

There is a historic association of apprenticeships with young people of school-leaving age. However, there is plenty of evidence to show that this model can also be beneficial for adults. Apprenticeships could be revisited over the course of a career as a way to transition jobs, or to support unemployed people back into work.

Recognising this, Barclays has established a Lifelong Learning Apprenticeship to “help adults seeking employment after a period out of work and to create a pipeline of older recruits to build a workforce demographic that is diverse and reflects the make-up of Barclays’ customer base.” The programme targets anyone over the age of 24 who has been out of work for 12 months or more, and requires no prior experience in banking. After a three-week pre-employment course, successful candidates go on to complete a 12- to 18-month apprenticeship delivering financial services in-branch or over the phone. From there, apprentices are able to gain banking qualifications through the Chartered Banker Institute and progress to more senior roles.

The programme has been running since 2015, testament to its success as a model to support adults, particularly the longer-term unemployed, back into employment.

The Lifetime Skills Guarantee

The Lifetime Skills Guarantee was launched by Prime Minister Boris Johnson in September 2020 and is an attempt to provide adults with skills that are valued by employers and the chance to study flexibly, in a time and place that suits them. The Prime Minister’s promised reforms include a commitment to increasing apprenticeship opportunities, making the apprenticeship structure more flexible, and increasing funding for SMEs taking on apprentices.

Commenting on the new Guarantee, Alan Hiddleston, Director of Corporate Learning at D2L, said: “The past year has proven that lifelong learning is vital, and workers need to be better equipped with the skills for tomorrow. Looking ahead, our economy will require real change – a change of attitudes and indeed, culture. The way in which we value, deliver and measure learning will also need to shift, with increased collaboration between education institutions and corporate learning.”

Sarah Kirby, Group Head of Organisation Design & HR Strategy at Zurich Insurance Company Ltd, commented that this goes some way to solving a key challenge with the Apprenticeship Levy: “The main hurdle with the Levy in the UK is that the criteria are too narrow and onerous, which addresses only a skills gap in one’s current role. In the context of the Future of Work, we should be thinking beyond school leavers and considering people at all stages of their careers.”

Apprenticeships represent collaboration between formal learning providers and businesses. Unlike other forms of learning, an apprentice is working towards guaranteed paid work. They are also being paid throughout the learning process. This makes apprenticeships the most sensible route to support people to change careers or move out of unemployment, two particular challenges facing the country as we navigate both coronavirus and the fourth industrial revolution.

What’s more, five years after completion, the average Higher Technical Apprentice earns more than the average graduate. This is one of the motivations for the government’s move to facilitating lifelong learning: apprenticeships offer opportunities that are obscured by the false dichotomy in public imagination between the idea of “practical” versus “academic” education.

Apprenticeships and the fourth industrial revolution

Traditional education cannot adapt fast enough to equip students with the knowledge, skills and experience they need to operate newly emerging technologies and fulfil emerging business needs – but apprenticeships can.

Reskilling through apprenticeships is a way to fill the skills gaps that will occur in the near and longer-term future, including those that we may not yet have predicted, or are not yet capable of preparing for.

We know that the jobs landscape will continue to change as technology advances. The apprenticeship model offers the perfect tool to facilitate collaboration between employers and learning providers to ensure that these gaps continue to be addressed. What’s more, apprenticeships can also ensure that workers of all ages and at all stages in their careers have the opportunity to transition into emerging fields of work, without taking on the huge risk and financial burden of retraining at a university.

In this way, apprenticeships support lifelong learning while offering a solution to solve both the skills gaps and unemployment.

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