Opinion

Charlie Mullins: Talent of college students and teaching staff often ignored by businesses

5 min read

22 June 2015

At last, like Champagne and Parma ham, the great British apprenticeship is something considered so valuable, its status and quality are now protected by law.

This is a great thing and yet another step in the long journey to increase the status of the apprenticeship, so that the skilled professionals who are its products are once again held in high esteem by the public.

I have been calling for exactly this for years because, as the product of a proper, top quality apprenticeship, I know the value of the real thing, and I feel the pain when I see supermarkets and other companies disrespecting the term to win training grants to employ existing staff to stack shelves.

Announcing the new protected status of apprenticeships, which as part of the government’s Enterprise Bill will now be required by law to be of a minimum length and quality, skills minister Nick Boles said: “Businesses know their value, so it’s high time they were recognised both by the public and in law as being equal to degrees.”

Boles is a dedicated fellow, and showed this last year when he visited Pimlico Plumbers to meet one of our apprentices on site to see her in action. Definitely a man who is prepared to get his hands dirty, he really did, throwing on a Pimlico uniform to help unblock a sink.

This is not the end of the line; the battle for apprenticeships to have equal status to university degrees is not over. And as far as I’m concerned it won’t be until government thinks they are important enough to set up a fully-funded nationally organised apprenticeship scheme.

And by that I mean pay employers to train young people as apprentices. It’s a complete no-brainer, pay young people to learn a trade rather than to sit at home and watch TV while drawing Job Seekers’ Allowance or something similar.

I do, however, believe that this is a serious breakthrough, as the government has pledged three million apprenticeships during this parliament, and now, thanks to this new status, that means a whole lot more.

Read more from Charlie Mullins: 

So now businesses that rely on apprenticeships to develop a future workforce have a greater ally in government, we have to turn our attention to the final part of the triumvirate that will truly make vocational training deliver for young people and employers – further education.

I have always said schools need to better prepare young people for work, which unfortunately is not the case. However, the closest we get to that ethos is through further education colleges and training providers. 

They are increasingly delivering vocational courses that are more closely linked to specific career paths than those offered by most universities. And, of course, they provide the day-release classroom element and qualification assessment required for apprenticeships.

So why are there not greater links between employers and further education? Accepted, this doesn’t apply to all businesses, but I would suggest that, on the whole, there is a disconnect that isn’t benefiting anyone.

Recently I worked with The Entrepreneurial Education Group (TEEG) to offer the college students the chance to design an app for Pimlico Plumbers. I was incredibly impressed with the creativity and resourcefulness of the students from the across the country that entered

It proved that by giving the students a task related directly to business, and with a brief that could have been presented to a professional app designer, they were exposed to what life will be like in the real world.

This country has a huge resource pool of talent in the form of college students and their teaching staff, which is often ignored by businesses. If we better understood this resource and adjust our behaviour to suit, apprenticeships and other vocational courses will become the primary education choice for young people and employers.