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'To call on-the-job training an apprenticeship undermines the true meaning of the term'

Angela Middleton (pictured), chief executive of training and recruitment company MiddletonMurray, writes:

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Angela Middleton (pictured), chief executive of training and recruitment company MiddletonMurray, writes:

Apprenticeships are a hot topic at the moment, and have justifiably received a lot of attention. However, there’s not always a clear definition for what exactly an apprenticeship is. At MiddletonMurray, we help huge numbers of young people who are Neet (not in education, employment or training) to find work through apprenticeship schemes, but what about the other apprenticeships we hear so much about?

All the apprenticeships we provide are for young people, and we place them into their first job. I'm always rather surprised when I attend conferences and find big corporates delivering keynote speeches about their "apprenticeship schemes". In some cases, these schemes involve little more than a company training thousands of their existing internal staff – something they would have done anyway. But by terming this training an "apprenticeship", the company receives additional funding.  

Some companies term jobs that would exist anyway and do not require specific, lengthy training an "apprenticeship". This undermines the term and means jobs that do require specialist training are grouped together with those that don’t. I’ve come across companies that even offer "50-plus apprenticeships". While it’s fantastic that companies are continuing to invest in their older staff, who are a vital part of the workforce, this training is simply not an apprenticeship – it’s training that would have been given to staff anyway.

At MiddletonMurray, we are non-selective. We put young people who are Neet through a traineeship that includes maths and English, and we persuade businesses to give them a chance. Then we deliver an apprenticeship and set them on a career path of their choosing, which they otherwise would not have had the skills to enter. We have a huge success rate: 96 per cent of young people get jobs as a result of the traineeship and 93 per cent remain in full-time employment after the apprenticeship, 77 per cent with the same employer.

Of course we'll work within the system – however it may operate – but I do think it would be a shame if our apprenticeship scheme in the UK were to turn into a reincarnation of the Train to Gain programme, which was intended to give a career boost to individuals over the age of 25 and in existing employment.

Some large companies – Barclays, for instance – do set a very positive example with their Life Skills programme, which helps to provide young people with the skills required of them in the world of work. However, even this programme is very selective and I personally would like to see programmes like this extended to all young people.

I’m also concerned about the recent talk of scrapping the level 2 apprenticeship (the equivalent of GCSE passes). Should this ever happen, the door will close even more firmly on those with few qualifications. In my opinion, the right way to train up young people is to pledge a two- or preferably three-year commitment through an apprenticeship.

MiddletonMurray provides the young people who come through our doors with a traineeship, which is followed by a level 2 apprenticeship. Some then go on to level 3, and we are hoping to extend our offering to level 4.

It’s clear to me that some training programmes that are called "apprenticeships" do not always provide the level of training that is indicated by the title. An apprenticeship should be an alternative to the traditional academic route. To call training given to those already in employment (who may already have followed an academic route to university) an "apprenticeship" undermines the true meaning of the term.


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