Apprenticeships have been one of the success stories of the past 10 years. Yet over the past 12 months, there has been growing concern about whether they are meeting expectations. Indeed, the Panorama programme earlier this month is just the latest salvo in a long-running campaign that questions the value of apprenticeships and our ambitious training programme.
So let me start by busting a myth. Morrisons pays for our colleagues' main training and employment costs. The government funding for apprenticeships is used to cover the cost of assessing the person to the standards required by Ofqual and extra numeracy and literacy training for those who need help.
Another concern is about the scale of Morrisons' programme and, as such, some question the purpose of apprenticeships. There are four issues that apprenticeships address.
First, Britain is a third-division nation when it comes to high-end technical skills development, way behind countries such as Finland, Germany and the US. Morrisons has not used apprenticeships to address this, but it has invested in debt-free degrees for young people at the University of Bradford.
Second, there has been underinvestment for many years in traditional skills such as butchery. Morrisons prides itself on being a different kind of retailer that values craft skills. Because of this, it has been investing in growing its own with 300 craft-trained apprentices a year.
Third, more than 1 million 16- to 24-year-olds are out of work. Morrisons works in local communities with people who are disadvantaged. It supports them to gain qualifications and it believes that this approach of developing rather than buying talent is right not just for Morrisons but for the UK. From our experience, it is this type of apprenticeship that enables people to move from "exclusion" to "inclusion", transforming the prospects of people trapped in unemployment or entry-level jobs.
The last issue is social mobility. Apprenticeships create the conditions where people at the bottom of the career ladder can realistically believe that, if they work hard, they can get all the way to the top. In the last year alone, 2,500 colleagues in Morrisons progressed from entry-level jobs to junior management positions, having first gained an apprenticeship.
The development of people in work in the UK has been too piecemeal for too long. Apprenticeships form one part of a pathway that supports young people into work and into a career. Only by understanding apprenticeships in their widest context will we realise their full value.
Norman Pickavance is group human resources director at Morrisons.