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Bring back apprentices

A STRENGTHENED and more comprehensive apprenticeship system to replace "failed" schemes of youth training and work-based education is recommended in a radical set of proposals from academics at Stirling University.

All young people who take a job straight from school should be entitled to an apprenticeship with an employer or an FE college, according to a hard-hitting critique of the present system by Roy Canning and Martin Cloonan from the new centre for lifelong learning at Stirling University.

They argue that too much effort has gone into expanding full-time higher education which is likely to produce more and more graduates chasing fewer and fewer graduate-level jobs. At the same time, too little effort has been directed to work-based training which would meet employers' needs.

The report adds: "Successive UK governments have funded an array of youth training schemes, the latest being Skillseekers. Despite the rhetoric, these schemes have continually failed to deliver quality training or tangible results for the majority of their participants. They have come over the years to be recognised as a low achievement route to insecure employment and are held in low esteem by employers and the young alike."

The authors are particularly critical of the local enterprise companies' role in funding a "low skill credentials" approach of certificating the unemployed, linked to payments by results.

Yet reports by Scottish Enterprise itself showed that, throughout the 1990s, this policy had not ed to any great improvement in employment prospects "while leaving a minority of them with qualifications or units of qualifications that have little value in the workplace - all this at considerably higher cost than the equivalent qualifications delivered by further education colleges".

The paper suggests that a new "Scottish apprenticeship framework" for 16 to 19-year-olds not continuing in full-time education should be delivered by the national training organisations, representing the range of employment sectors, rather than by the enterprise companies. Educational input should come from the FE colleges, leading to the respected higher national certificate as the "benchmark qualification".

Scottish Vocational Qualifications, the only awards for work-based training which currently attract LEC funding, "lack the theoretical rigour of the traditional awards that they have replaced, leading to poorer overall standards in the quality of the qualifications achieved. It is difficult to argue under these circumstances that the current policies will lead to any upskilling of the workforce."

The authors estimate that around a third of school-leavers, some 20,000 16 19s, would be eligible to benefit from being apprenticed to a "master craft worker". Contracts would set out rates of pay and conditions, and the system would cover a much more extensive range of industries than the old-style apprentices. A "pre-apprenticeship" experience could be offered to underachievers.

Leader, page 18

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