Wider skills for growth: the disposition and wider skills needed for a lifetime of learning and change.
Too often apprenticeships simply focus on the first, fourth and fifth of these outcomes because they are easier to teach and assess than the other three. But it is these overlooked qualities that can make apprentices distinctive.
Look and learn
Apprenticeships are currently being overhauled by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), which has called for a "radical reform programme that will make apprenticeships in England the best in the world". To achieve this ambition, BIS is essentially trying to simplify the system and give employers greater ownership.
But there is an astonishing omission in the new specifications: there is almost no mention of learning or the learning processes apprentices need to experience. This cannot be wise. In our research, we have found strong evidence for the effectiveness of a variety of teaching and learning methods - a blend of different approaches will almost always need to be used.
Furthermore, we suggest three key features of apprenticeships that require attention. The first is that they take place both on and off the job, so we need to decide what is learned where. Second, they involve learning from and with others, so where apprentices are in small organisations we need to think about how they access a larger community of practice. And third, it is essential that the processes of learning are visible and clear, because we know this is important for all teaching. These three features will help to ensure that apprentices understand why they are doing what they are doing, and will foster effective collaboration between the people supporting them.
BIS also says that "learners must demand high-quality pedagogy". Indeed, we should go further. Educational psychologist Lee S Shulman coined a concept called "signature pedagogy". A signature pedagogy encapsulates the essence of a particular occupation or profession, so the signature pedagogy of engineering, for example, would involve making things and making things work better using the engineering design process - problem-finding, designing, testing, improving and so on.
Our alliance believes that each apprenticeship has its own signature pedagogy - a blend of learning methods that will work best. We hope that our research will stimulate debate, promote practical action and encourage collaboration. Above all, we have an unshakeable desire to put learning back at the heart of apprenticeship reform.
Bill Lucas is professor of learning and director of the Centre for Real-World Learning at the University of Winchester. He is also a founding member of the City amp; Guilds Alliance. National Apprenticeship Week takes place on 9-13 March