Very modern apprentices

13th September 1996 at 01:00
A new scheme for young employees offers a work-based alternative to full-time education, say Jenny Kellie and Sheila McCullough. The pattern of post-16 education, training and employment has seen dramatic changes from the time when traditional craft apprenticeships were at their peak. A structural shift has taken place with the proportion of 16-year-olds choosing to remain in full-time education increasing substantially.

These young people can choose programmes leading to Highers and Certificate of Sixth Year Studies and SCOTVEC modules. More than 75 per cent of young people follow school-based programmes at 16-plus, with around 9 per cent in further education colleges. Those with the necessary aptitudes and motivation can progress to higher education if they wish.

Modern Apprenticeships are intended to offer an alternative route for able young people - through work-based education and training. They are intended to be a high-quality provision to meet new and emerging skills needs at craft, technician and junior management level.

Industry is experiencing a sea change in working practices. Unskilled jobs are disappearing fast with craft jobs increasingly focused on supervisory or technician skills. Skills are recognised as a key factor to enable the UK to compete successfully in global markets while skill shortages, particularly at the technician or supervisory level, are often cited as an inhibiting factor in British companies' efforts to become more competitive. It was against this background that the Government introduced the Modern Apprenticeship, primarily to improve skill supply. These offer a broad spectrum of foundation knowledge and skills together with a high level of technical competence in the area of work to which the apprenticeship applies.

The Modern Apprenticeship movement is spearheaded by the Industry Training Organisations. ITOs are recognised by the Government as the strategic bodies responsible for defining the training needs of their respective industry sectors and ensuring they are met. The bodies aim to improve company performance and individual career prospects through promotion of employee and new entrant training to national standards of competence, certified by Scottish Vocational Qualifications (SVQs) or National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs). The National Council of Industry Training Organisations Scotland (NCITO Scotland) represents the interests of ITOs in Scotland and assists them to operate effectively within the Scottish framework.

The concept of MAs was introduced in England in 1993. In 199394 the Department for Education and Employment co-ordinated the development by ITOs of a small number of prototype MAs launched in autumn 1994. Since then ITOs have been bringing their MA frameworks forward for approval and there are now 65 which have been approved. Of course, this does still not cover all industrial sectors and further English frameworks are currently under development.

In Scotland the adoption of MAs was formally signalled in 1994 by the then Secretary of State, Ian Lang, in his Training for the Future policy statement which announced the introductionm of Modern Apprenticeships into Scotland within the existing Skillseekers framework.

In spring 1995 a Modern Apprenticeship Implementation Group was established with the remit of endorsing the ITOs MA frameworks for use in Scotland within Skillseekers. The members of this group include representatives from Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, the local enterprise companies (LECs) and NCITO Scotland. In June 1995 the group organised a seminar for ITOs to introduce them to the mechanics of submitting a framework for Scottish endorsement and to encourage them to widen their MA to include Scottish young people.

Since then NCITO Scotland has been working with ITOs in adapting the frameworks for use in Scotland. The first was endorsed in June 1995. By August this year the number had reached 30. Another 40 are expected by the end of 1996.

The Scottish Implementation Group asks for evidence of full consultation, sufficiently representative of the Scottish situation. Once the framework is endorsed, the ITO has further responsibilities. It must market the apprenticeship to young people and employers.

This is, of course, done in conjunction with the LECs and the careers service. The ITO must continually register the young people as modern apprentices and monitor and evaluate the implementation of the framework.

So what exactly is a Modern Apprenticeship? The national criteria stipulate that it must: * lead to the achievement of an SNVQ at level 3 or above * provide for breadth and flexibility according to sector and employer need * be based on achievement of outcomes at a pace appropriate to the individual apprentice and not on time serving * provide training that will be formalised within a training plan which shall be expressed in milestones. The training plan is underpinned by a written agreement signed by the employer and the young person. This agreement expresses the rights and obligations of both parties * involve modern apprentices who ideally should be employed from the outset * be an equal opportunity programme with no unnecessary restrictive practices.

In most MAs there is a combination of both formal vocational training, work-based skills development and vocational education. There are four components: Vocational qualifications The occupational SNVQs for a sector are the core of the framework. Apprentices may initially work towards a level 2 and then progress to levels 3 or 4.

Core Skills The ITO decides which level of each of the five Scottish core skills (numeracy, communication, IT, problem solving, personal and interpersonal skills) are appropriate for its sector.

Knowledge and understanding These underpin the core skills and the VQs. Typically this might include foundation learning appropriate to the sector followed by ongoing input.

Additional components These vary from sector to sector and might include health and safety, foreign languages, marketing and supervisory skills. The purpose of the additional components is to broaden the training and enhance the flexibility of the apprentice.

The sector framework sets the minimum standards to be attained by an apprentice but the actual training can be adapted and enhanced to suit individual company needs.

In Scotland MAs are funded by the local enterprise companies through Skillseekers. All of the MA criteria are fully compatible. This means that it is possible for a young person who was initially recruited as a Skillseeker to convert to a Skillseekers Modern Apprentice once the appropriate sectoral framework has been endorsed.

Scottish Enterprise has set a target for 2,500 modern apprentices to be employed by March next year. Highlands and Islands Enterprise, too, expect significant progress to be made on recruiting this year. MAs have attractions for both employers and young people. Through the sectoral consultation process employers have a direct input to the content of the apprenticeship programme and can ensure that it reflects the current needs of their industry. Skillseekers funding makes a significant contribution towards an employer's training costs.

As the concept of an apprenticeship is still valued by young people and their parents, the apprenticeship programme allows employers to attract young employees of a high calibre, who will be committed to a career in their industry.

The apprentices themselves have the reassurance that they are participating in a well-structured programme of education and training which leads to nationally recognised qualifications. Employed in a real job, they have the opportunity to "learn while they earn" .

Advantages all round then? It seems so. Modern Apprenticeships have the potential to address many of the UK's skills shortage problems.

If all partners in the MA process - employers, ITOs, the enterprise networks, careers services - recognise this potential, and we are sure they will, Modern Apprenticeships will in fact deliver the required results and ensure a well qualified, competent workforce for UK plc into the next century.

Jenny Kellie is development manager and Sheila McCullough, MA consultant with NCITO Scotland.

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