Apprenticeships: Your views

Lee McQueen, past winner of The Apprentice TV show, now heads up the Raw Talent Academy, which promotes young people who didn’t make it to university or chose not to go. He says apprenticeships have come a long way since their introduction.

“They have become a real alternative to those young people that don’t wish to go to university. Apprentices can gain valuable and rewarding work experiences and on-the-job training, something that is becoming increasingly important to potential employers.” 

And he rejects the charge that introductory work schemes are exploitative: “You could argue that universities charging £9,000 a year for a qualification is unfair. I wouldn’t say that apprenticeships are taking advantage of younger workers. Instead, they are mutually beneficial for both the apprentice and the employer.”

The idea behind apprenticeships is to provide experience of a real work environment for school leavers, while employers get an enthusiastic, energetic and motivated recruit without blowing the payroll budget. 

Stephen Maher, chief executive of MBA, a communications agency, said: “We see a passion and a willingness to learn in many apprentices that is often limitless and almost tangible. They are the bright young sparks that are proactive: we see candidates that are constantly searching for ways to stay creative against a rising tide of unemployment.

Maher says the rise in university costs has turned the spotlight on apprenticeships: “There is a changing demographic with a rise of graduate-caliber candidates as university degrees continue to lose appeal. Economic uncertainty has created  a healthy appetite for innovation and fresh thinking and this is the perfect time for apprenticeships to take a front seat.”

David Davies, managing director of Wales-based Axiom Manufacturing Services, employs 200 people including a number of apprentices. He argues that uncertainty about the future of the UK economy is driving more young people to invest time in a scheme.

“Our apprentices continue their academic education under the guidance and mentorship of staff who have in excess of 25 years of manufacturing experience,” he says. “We currently have two apprenticeships on our four-year programme which we launched last November and we’re already seeing the value they bring to the company.

“An apprenticeship makes great business sense; it provides the opportunity to train a young person your company’s way before they pick up bad habits from elsewhere and, in my experience is far more cost effective than employing a higher paid graduate who will still require training.”

Real Business regular andplumber to the stars Charlie Mullins is equally evangelistic about the benefits schemes bring to employers and recruits. He rejects out of hand claims that apprentices are taken advantage of by bosses.

“To those who say apprenticeships are exploitation due to low wages, what planet are you on? You can either go to university to train for, errgh, well, I’m not sure – but you have to pay them for the (in my mind) dubious privilege.  The alternative is to work as an apprentice, which involves, not free training, but training where you get paid for learning.  

“If this is exploitation, what do you call recruiting someone for three years, where they have to pay £27k, and rather than a job at the end there’s generally a £50,000 debt to clear, based on the promise  of a good job, which is a complete fiction?”

And it seems apprentices themselves agree. Craig Johnson was the first recruit to join the Junior Sales Academy at Atlanta Technology, which launched late last year. Johnson says the server and storage virtualisation specialist has given him a good grounding.

He says: “It’s a great way of changing my career direction from IT support into a sales-focused role, without having to take time out from my career to retrain. The investment I am receiving both personally from the team with their time, plus the training I am receiving from an external mentor is really motivating and I’m pleased to have enrolled in the academy.” 

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