Employers are constantly complaining about school, college and university leavers being launched into the world of work without the necessary skills. Lucy Ward asks whether the latest training initiatives measure up to the task. Lorraine Harman and Zo Wentworth do not have far to go for their off-the-job training as a modern apprentice in administration. Both just nip into the classroom next door to their office at private training provider Key Training's Birmingham centre.
Key were so impressed with Zo , 20, who took administration and IT vocational qualifications with them after leaving school at 16, that they poached her from a job in retail three years later to become their own modern apprentice. They offered her the chance to take a level 4 NVQ in administration and to become an NVQ assessor, both of which she has achieved a year on.
Lorraine, 22, also gained administration qualifications at Key and found work at an advertising agency, believing her difficulties with exams would bar her forever from her dream of a teaching career. Then, last May, the training firm invited her back as a modern apprentice, with the chance to pursue her administration studies at a higher level and to train as an assessor - the first step to her goal.
Both apprentices expect to continue their on-the-job training for the next year or 18 months, as well as joining the other modern apprentices sent to Key by employers one day a week to study broader aspects of the administration sector.
Managers at Key say they have the highest expectations for Lorraine and Zo - their first employees under the modern apprenticeship scheme. Contract manager Ruth Kedwards says: "We are training them for the future of the company. We feel we are bringing new managers up behind us who will know about all the different aspects and functions of the organisation."
The two modern apprentices, both of whom were keen to enter employment after school rather than move on to higher education, say the programme has provided an ideal balance between work and training. The classroom-based training wins praise from both.
"Because this is the only organisation I've been really involved with it's very useful to hear how others approach things," says Zo . "But I've also found I know a lot more about my own organisation than another person doing the same job." Her work as a tutor, often to trainees older than herself, has increased her confidence and encouraged her to pursue a career in training.
For Lorraine, who retook her maths GCSE five times before conquering exam nerves and passing, the scheme has also provided a much-needed confidence boost.
After watching friends depart for university, she feared she might never match their success, but is now convinced her route has suited her best."At the time I felt a failure, but now my friends have graduated and are looking for work and they are actually no further on than me. I have gained my qualifications through experience, but graduates have done everything out of a textbook. "