Apprentices can go far, and higher

18th July 2008 at 01:00
How amusing to see the House of Lords is concerned that not enough apprentices are progressing to higher education

How amusing to see the House of Lords is concerned that not enough apprentices are progressing to higher education.

This option should be available, of course, but criticising apprenticeships for failing in this regard completely misses the point about the magic of the good apprenticeship.

Last week saw the annual Apprenticeship Awards in Westminster, very close to where, 500 years ago, one of the most successful apprentices of all time, Wynkyn de Worde, had moved into the house of his late master, William Caxton, the pioneer of printing.

After printing more than 100 books using his new-found skills, De Worde set up an enterprise in Shoe Lane, off Fleet Street, which led to the creation of the British newspaper industry. Not a bad achievement for a young lad who lacked the benefit of higher education.

To many people, the word apprenticeship conjures up images of the artisan learning his craft under the wing of an expert, and has come to be regarded as a tradition that has largely died out. In fact, the Learning and Skills Council, by quietly reintroducing apprenticeships, has restored this tradition on a scale that would have been hard to imagine 20 years ago.

In its modern form, the apprenticeship goes further than its 1950s counterpart by offering training in a range of generic and business skills which make the trainee employable far beyond their existing workplace.

As the report of the Lords' economic affairs committee rightly points out, apprenticeships are bedevilled by bureaucracy and, like the rest of the lifelong learning sector, would work better without having to come under the remit of two government departments.

But, for all that, with the support of colleges and other training providers, they are one of the great successes of this Government.

Many of those honoured at last week's Apprentice of the Year awards ceremony will go on to have great careers - with or without progressing to higher education.

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