It’s National Apprenticeship Week, so the self-serving surveys about apprenticeships are much in force.And the celebrities from the University of Life are wheeled out. Here’s Karren Brady in The Sun: “I didn’t go to university and started my first job straight out of school, from which I built my career. So I am a great believer in vocational education and the great value that training on the job provides.” And then come the stories of famous people who started as apprentices, such as Stella McCartney and, er, Ryan Giggs (not sure about the presence of that many university graduates in the Premiership.) But we need more apprentices. There are only 11 apprenticeship places for every 1,000 employees in the UK. That’s a scandal. It’s easy to see why. We have promoted the glories and advantages of university education – and incentivised schools to deliver more undergraduates – as part of our drive towards a service-based, knowledge economy. Ally that to a long-standing snootiness about manual labour and manufacturing, and it is not hard to see why the apprenticeship has been stigmatised in middle-class Britain. Perhaps the hike in university tuition fees will cause some people to see the light. And maybe Lord Sugar’s apprentices could actually be made to make something, or learn a skill, rather than just ponce in front of cameras. Stories such as Microsoft’s decision to hire 1,000 apprentices in London makes for a positive story. But if you want to read a really sensible piece about a company that knows the value of apprenticeships and has stuck to them, read this article about Bentley in Professional Engineering.
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