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When plumbers have pipe dreams

CONTEMPLATING a blocked pipe, middle-aged plumbers in cloth caps often bemoan the demise of apprenticeships and pour scorn on the training, or lack of it, received by today's youngsters. Disgruntled and out of date? Not when Stirling University is riding to their support.

A report (FE Focus, page IV) suggests that new-style apprenticeships replace the raft of vocational courses and work-based experience undertaken by school-leavers. It argues that the needs of employers would be better served and that trainees would gain more rigorous and more marketable qualifications.

Roy Canning and Martin Cloonan claim that resources should be redirected from mass higher education, leading to unemployment or under-employment, towards the training sector. That would fly in the face of the Government's access policy, reiterated in the response to the Cubie inquiry It is within the present confusing structure of vocational education that the change of emphasis should come. Over the years a succession of glossily-promoted schemes has failed to produce any that are widely grasped and respected. On the latest, the New Deal, the jury is still out.

True, Modern Apprenticeships, on which the Stirling proposals are built, have not caught the imagination either. By the end of last year there were fewer than 13,000 apprentices, well short of the 20,000 target by 2002. Completion rates for which figures are available from south of the border are discouraging, only three out of 10. But if the apprenticeship model, which is easily understood, was given the boost that Canning and Cloonan advocate, numbers would rapidly rise. Of course, the cloth-capped worthies would still grumble about their ham-fisted assistants.

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