The Apprentice winner and The Bright Ideas Trust founder says apprenticeships can be the future for our youth
If we need to fuel growth in the UK, I put all my money on apprenticeships. I think apprenticeships are the best thing ever created to get young people into employment. They mean employers can ‘try before they hire’ employees, and individuals can learn while they earn.
Britons who graduate from university often realise there is a lot of competition, and there’s no guarantee that what they learned at university is always relevant experience for the world of work.
Meanwhile, some of those who left school and went straight into apprenticeships are finding they are on par with their peers with degrees when it comes to productivity, motivation and return on investment.
What employers are looking for are the right attitudes, potential and the right skills for the job. An apprenticeship programme is a very productive synergy of skill and qualification – people can work and train with an employer from day one, and get an educational qualification which supports the work they are doing.
I truly believe that people should go to university if it is something that they want to do. However, the changes in how higher education is funded mean that people really have to think about what university is going to lead to. We must make sure we don’t alienate those who don’t want to go down the purely academic route.
Through my work at Bright Ideas Trust, I’ve found that big companies like Accenture, Ernst & Young, PwC and Channel 4 understand they need to recruit from a diverse pool of talent. They know relying only on graduates to be the managers of the future will not suffice.
All the companies I have worked with have said that people who come on apprenticeship programmes are likely to be more productive and stay in the company for longer.
Despite high levels of unemployment, I still hear a lot of businesses saying they are unable to get the right talent. My challenge to them is: let’s show schools what we need.
Heads of schools need to talk to the government and businesses, and support a curriculum that includes employability courses that will help students to get jobs in the future.
We also need more businesses to understand qualifications like the Higher National Diplomas, Technical Certificates and National Vocational Qualifications, and why they are the skills needed.
I think the long-term solution for getting young people into employment is conducting a review like the Leitch Review of Skills commissioned by the UK government in 2004. It set out the optimal skills mix needed for 2020 to maximise economic growth. It was one of the only papers that looked to the future and worked backwards to identify the skills we need.
The key element was concluding that if Britain wants to be globally competitive, we need to invest in skill development now. I see the apprenticeship offering as an important way to facilitate this.
If we address these issues, I am sure that Britain will achieve the most enviable position in the world, and, most importantly, give the next generation that critical element: opportunity!