In praise of the apprentice: why their time has come

13th August 2010 at 01:00
Apprentices are the lifeblood of BT. We typically recruit 450 young people on to our programme every year, and they follow a wide range of frameworks, including customer service, IT, engineering, business, even vehicle maintenance.

Given the opportunity that an apprenticeship offers, why are vocational frameworks still the poor relation of the qualifications system?

There is undoubtedly a perception problem for vocational qualifications which equates them with manual trades. The range of frameworks available should dispel this myth: young people are now undertaking apprenticeships in IT, education, health, leisure, business, law and many other sectors where the accepted wisdom would be that A-levels and a degree would be the entry route to employment.

Addressing this misconception depends on having up-to-date information for teachers and lecturers, young people and, their parents. Employers must take responsibility for ensuring that this advice truly reflects the opportunities we have to offer.

Large companies with experience in recruiting and gaining value from apprenticeships need to work with their supply chains to encourage their greater use.

The schools curriculum allows for a range of more vocationally focused learning through the new diplomas and young apprenticeships. But uptake is woefully low and by failing to promote the widest possible curriculum we risk losing the engagement of a generation who don't respond to the traditional academic pathway.

Regardless of the route of entry after a short period of time, we would expect both groups to be undertaking similar jobs, to be similarly productive and have similar opportunities to progress through the organisation. Our senior management roles are populated by former apprentices and graduates alike.

Given the current constraints to public spending, surely the finite resources that are available for further and higher education should be focused on ensuring that our young people gain the skills that will give them the greatest opportunity to follow their career ambitions.

Andy Palmer, Head of skills development, BT.

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