What will the apprenticeships of the future look like?

Apprenticeship providers must embrace digital skills to offer training that’s fit for the future, writes Esther Barrett

What will the apprenticeship of the future look like?

“It’s 2028,” says the character Rosie Lyons in the BBC drama Years and Years. “When I was a kid, 2028 sounded like the future.” While viewers marvelled at the show’s self-driving cars and mobile-phone implants, Rosie saw an infuriating lack of progress. “All I know is, my broadband’s still too slow, the kids demand 27 different types of telly, and gas and electric are going through the roof.”

When change happens over time, it can be hard to see the big picture. I frequently read articles about how artificial intelligence (AI) may, one day, change everything from the way we clean our homes to how we interact with friends, travel, work and play – but AI is already here!

Remember when the first "self check-out" machines appeared in your local supermarket? Barely a decade later, they’re ubiquitous. From delivery drones to chatbots providing student support, how many jobs have we already passed on to robots? It’s a trend that’s likely to grow – and it may see humans doing different jobs that require different skills.


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Background: How do apprenticeships tackle the need for adult care? 


Apprenticeships 4.0

Education must reflect this, and skills training is making steps in the right direction. Recognising that automation and digital technologies are transforming UK workplaces, most of the apprenticeship providers I meet want to see bold, positive change to ensure that training is fit for the future.

At Jisc, we talk about Education 4.0, which is technology-enhanced, future-thinking, and ready to meet the needs of Industry 4.0. Digital skills are central to this, and my role is to support post-16 learning providers with their strategic approach to digital delivery. Across the UK, it’s great to see apprenticeship providers moving forward, with many using the apprenticeship toolkit my colleagues and I developed to help learners grow their skills both in and out of the workplace. It’s about ensuring that what our learners learn and how they learn it is fit for the jobs of the future. 

Greater flexibility

What does the apprenticeship of the future look like? As Jennifer Coupland joins the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE), she may support greater flexibility in delivery and standards. That’s certainly what apprenticeship recruiters are calling for, according to a report published this week by the Institute for Student Employers (ISE). This is a time of real possibility.

But it won’t be an overnight transformation. Think evolution not revolution. Changes introduced in England in 2017 brought a shift from frameworks to standards, and greater emphasis on teaching and learning. Meanwhile, in Wales, apprenticeship providers are working towards a shared vision of digital delivery. It’s about using technology to make learning more accessible, inclusive, engaging and interactive.

We need a cultural shift, with apprenticeships underpinning lifelong, transferable skills and employability. Tomorrow’s employees will need underlying digital agility rather than knowledge of specified packages and platforms. That means having the confidence to assess each task, choose which digital tool to use, and have the skills to apply it. They will also need to know how to communicate and collaborate, how to unpick what they’re reading to work out if it’s true, and how to stay safe online. Apprenticeship 4.0 will deliver this rounded approach to skills for life and work.

There are practical, logistical benefits, too. Having previously been weighed down by reams of hand-written notes and print-outs, apprenticeship providers are moving towards e-portfolios, digitising admin and reducing their reliance on paper. In future, data analytics could also be used to strengthen relationships between providers, workplaces and apprentices.

Fit for the future

Apprenticeship 4.0 is an opportunity for providers to look at their current offer and ask if their practice supports and equips people for 21st-century workplaces. Whether apprentices learn online, face-to-face or through a mixture of both, teaching, learning and assessment can be supported with digital tools and techniques – and I’m yet to meet an apprenticeship provider that isn’t looking to make delivery and communication more efficient and effective. So how are they embedding digital skills into programmes? How are they helping learners compete globally?

Apprenticeship 4.0 won’t be a dramatic, futuristic revolution – but it can enhance learners’ employability and creativity for tomorrow, and beyond 2028.

Esther Barrett is a subject specialist in digital practice at Jisc. To find out how Jisc can support your apprenticeship delivery, email esther.barrett@jisc.ac.uk

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