We need time out to help apprentices

17th March 2006 at 00:00
The Learning and Skills Council's announcement that there is to be a pound;41 million (3 per cent) increase in the budget for apprenticeships is testament to the need for apprenticeships among employers and young people alike.

However, it doesn't get to the bottom of one of the biggest issues. No matter how much money is made available to fund apprenticeships, there simply aren't enough people with the time to teach the necessary skills - and, unless there is a fundamental change in the mind-set of British industry, I don't believe that there will be.

British industry needs to change the way it works with further education to remain competitive in the world marketplace. I believe that the only way to match the demand with the supply is to formalise the relationship that part-time lecturers have with their main employers. Lecturers in skills such as bricklaying and plumbing are in incredibly short supply. Of course, not everyone has the ability or inclination to teach, but many do, and it is these people whose passion for their trade should be harnessed and used for the good of the community and the country.

An analysis of 30,000 active lecturers on Protocol's database identified that 2,000 - 6 per cent - aren't able to work during office hours. If evening courses are required, this is not a problem, but why can't these people teach during the daytime?

Rather than working full time and fitting lecturing around their free time (if they have any), skilled professionals should be able to take time off work to teach practical skills in FE colleges. One of our associates at South Cheshire college, Daniel Marshall, is able to teach brickwork skills part-time as he runs his own business, and thus is able to give himself time off to teach valuable skills to young people.

It shouldn't just be the self-employed who are able to take a few hours out of the working day to bring genuine practical skills to colleges from the community. It should be just as easy for an employed person to do this.

The Government is keen to promote the Territorial Army to employers as a valuable resource, citing the fact that it allows employees to enhance and develop their skills. Although there is no compulsion for employers to provide employees with time off to attend TA activities, many do, realising the benefit it brings both company and individual.

In fact, a recent survey on behalf of SaBRE (Supporting Britain's Reservists and Employers, an MOD marketing and communications campaign) revealed that 87 per cent of employers would allow part-time working to fit around TA commitments, 82 per cent unpaid sabbaticals and 77 per cent unpaid annual holiday. It's clear from these findings that there is a willingness among employers to be flexible when employees want to pursue extra curricular activities for community benefit. So, if employers can accept the idea of a Territorial Army, why not have a Teachers' Army?

There is a genuine shortage of lecturers from the skilled trades in the UK, and the only way to solve the problem is either to assist employers financially to allow their experienced staff a few hours off work each week - to teach in local FE colleges - or to formalise part-time teaching in such a way that it becomes attractive for employers to allow their employees time off to teach in a Teachers' Army.

There's another benefit to this, of course. Not only will these new part-time lecturers develop their coaching and teaching skills for the good of their main employers, but they will also be able to use the classroom as a way of spotting and developing potential new employees. This is the modern approach to apprenticeship.

The FE sector plays a crucial role in solving the UK skills shortage and providing the teaching needed to enable apprenticeships to be seen as a valuable post-16 education option - but more money alone will not make apprenticeships succeed. Rather, radical new thinking is needed to enable those with valid skills to teach without prejudicing their careers.

Philip Harrison is chief executive of lecturer supply agency Protocol Professional

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