In this article Dick Evans provides thoughts on Apprenticeships – Past, Present and Future

At last it has been accepted that the work-based route within the national qualifica . tion framework is important and an essential element to tackling skill shortages. A whole series of developments are now in place including vocational/applied GCSEs and the reforms to the apprenticeship schemes. One critically important element of these initiatives is the proposed extension and refinement of the frameworks for apprenticeships. The government has announced a significant expansion in numbers for the existing apprenticeship programmes as well as an extension both for younger (14+) and older learners (> 25).

In addition to these extensions a number of reforms have been introduced including a name change involving the removal of the title Modern this being replaced in favour of “Apprenticeship” (at level 2) and “Advanced Apprenticeship” (at level 3). This change no doubt reflects the desire to move away from the over used and meaningless epithet “New”and “Modern” and an over pre-occupation with the questionable process of modernisation. One concern about the reforms is still the lack of real two-way involvement with employers. It is absolutely crucial that employers are once and for all treated as equal partners in these important developments. Employers and their representative organisations must work closely with the Sector Skills Councils (SSCs), Learning and Skills Councils ( LSCs), Regional Development Agencies (RDAs), training providers and awarding bodies. The traditional tokenistic approach is no longer acceptable – the frameworks must reflect the standards that employers require and satisfy their needs and this essential requirement will only be realised if employers and their representative bodies are involved at all stages of development and delivery of work based programmes. The frameworks for apprentices must also reflect the needs and expectations of the various learner populations. The one-size fits all approach will not work especially for the proposed new learner groups namely the 14-16 and >25 year olds. Each learner population requires a carefully configured programme that reflects and more adequately matches their specific needs and abilities and a standardised one size for all frameworks will not realise this imperative.

The framework for the 14-16 year olds presents a number of challenges both to the learner as well as the providers and employers. Some of the vocational areas in the programmes might be problematic for this group requiring more attention to content and delivery as the subject may contain themes unfamiliar to the younger learner. Understandably the foundations of certain aspects of the subject may not have figured in their education before and will present particular challenges to them and their tutors.


Also there is a real danger with the younger learner that they will opt for subject areas that are perceived to be easier and popular and are over subscribed in other parts of the national qualifications framework whilst avoiding subjects that require qualified people e.g. engineering/con-struction. The culture and practices of the work place can present a whole series of challenges to the younger learner and this aspect must be addressed carefully particularly at the induction stage. Also the majority of the providers will have had little experience of the teaching the 14 to 16-age range and staff must receive support in order to manage the needs of these learners. Another issue is if there will be sufficient work places particularly in rural areas and urban areas that have witnessed massive declines in some strategically important employment sectors e.g. manufacturing and engineering. Workplaces must be carefully scrutinised and monitored particularly from the learner viewpoint and the concerns that the employer may quite rightly have about the younger learner in the work place must be recognised and managed. This again reinforces the need for effective and equal partnerships to be quickly established between all the players in the apprenticeship programme.

Before I focus on the adult apprenticeship framework it might be useful to mention a number of existing concerns about the current Modern Apprenticeship programme, which need to be addressed as a matter of urgency. A recent BBC Radio 4 programme highlighted a series of problems about Modern Apprenticeships (MAs) including serious issues associated with the monitoring of Health and Safety in the work place and the lack of a comprehensive database on the apprentices them selves. The radio programme reported that there was a singular lack of monitoring and control of safety when learners were in the work place and that there was no one single agency that accepted responsibility for the safety regulations within employers’ premises. This concern was very real following a number of high profile accidents involving apprentices whilst in the work place. The radio programme starkly showed that the various players e.g. Adult Learners Inspectorate (ALI), LLSC’s, the training providers and the employers all seemed to assume it was someone else’s responsibility. To make matters worse there was no central database which carried a comprehensive and up-to-date record of the learners. It appeared to be left to the providers and/or employers to record the on- and off-job information on the learners. Historical practices seemed to be operated which created a rather ad hoc approach to this important element and again no one player considered it a high priority issue. There has to be a single centrally located database for all the programmes otherwise all kinds of problems will be precipitated.

Yet in spite of these well-known current concerns about the existing programmes the government is committed to pressing ahead with their agenda with little apparent concern or urgency to rectify these problems. These critical issues highlighted in the Radio 4 Programme merit another article and as a result will not be pursued in this piece, which will focus on the challenges presented by extending the apprenticeship programme for adults. Key questions that need addressing are “what should the framework look like for adults” and “how can it be configured to recognise, reflect and satisfy the adult learners’ needs?

The training of adults whether in work or undertaking programmes to enter work presents its own particular demands and needs of both teaching and learning. Some examples of these aspects are given below:

  • The majority of the staff delivering the provision in the work place are not necessarily trained and whose main job is not as an instructor. These individuals are experts in particular aspects. They can provide a wealth of experience, up-to-date functional relevant knowledge and skills that colleges and other training providers lack.
  • Teaching is inevitably and quite rightly focussed on practical outcomes and this can present some fundamental challenges to how the underpinning theory is delivered and sequenced. The emphasis on work practice in real working environments will provide motivation to the learners.
  • Training sessions can often be of short duration and understandably organised around the primary purpose of the business but this in turn can present benefits both positive and negative for the learner. These training elements must be structured and sequenced in a coherent and logical fashion to maximise the learning experience.
  • The adult learner populations are often very heterogeneous and as a result present a number of fundamental challenges to the tutors and staff many of whom have little experience of teaching these groups.

Various surveys including those carried out by MORI have identified four attitudinal categories for adults namely:

  • Improvers – Those looking to better themselves/improve their position and as a result available opportunities are obvious to them.
  • Strivers – Those who have aspirations but might not be doing enough to achieve them and as a result require information/direction/help.
  • Drifters -Those stuck in a rut, not happy with their lot, but not doing much to change their situation.
  • Strugglers – Those who are disadvantaged in a multitude of ways. Available opportunities not known or obvious and cost perceived as a high barrier to change.

These categories are useful in a number of ways in identifying the needs of the adult learners and as a result must inform the way the framework is configured. One crucial issue is how the proposed single standardised/one size fit framework can match the diverse needs, expectations and multiple characteristics of the adult learner. There most certainly needs to be an effective and comprehensive initial assessment regime in place that recognises the background of the adult leaner. They will enter the programme with a very wide range of personal issues often derived from previous experiences of learning, many of them bad. In addition many will have gained valuable experiences both from formal, informal learning situations as well as direct work and life experiences. This means that a robust and effective Accreditation of Prior Experience and Learning (APEL) system must be in place which recognises previous qualifications and experiences and this determines the subsequent support and shape of the apprenticeship programme. Credit and recognition must also be given to these learners, which could accelerate these studies. Earlier research has shown that accelerated programmes do work for many adult learners provided their previous experience is recognised and the programme recognises their prior knowledge and competences.

As any one who has taught mature students on access or HNC courses knows their motivation is remarkable and again a standardised heavily prescribed programme will frustrate and possibly deter the older learner. The framework has to be flexible and structured in such a way as to recognise these characteristics. This imperative again highlights the importance of employer involvement in all aspects of the programme.

One critical element is the need to tackle issues associated with basic/key skills especially those of numeracy and literacy. Numerous reports have shown that these skills are sadly deficient in many adult learners and must be recognised and managed in a sympathetic way again maximising their existing skills derived in a wide set of life and work contexts. The simplistic approach being operated with basic skills initiatives in other programmes will not be effective for these learners and the one size fit will produce frustration and bring about failure and dropout. These elements must be seen as relevant and relate to the subject being pursued within the apprenticeship. Because of their greater maturity the wider key skills present less of a problem. After all many will have worked in teams and been involved in problem solving situations in a number of different contexts. Again it is important this value added element possessed by adult learners is recognised and maximised within the apprenticeship programme.


The framework for adult apprenticeships must include the following crucial elements:

  • Employers and their representative organisations must be fully engaged in the development and delivery of the programmes.
  • A flexible framework must exist and attempts to introduce one-size fits all approach must be resisted.
  • A comprehensive and relevant induction programme for prospective apprentices accompanied by appropriate initial and on going careers advice and guidance.
  • A system to gauge prior learning and experience of the learners must exist requiring comprehensive and consistent programmes for this accreditation e.g. APEL/APL. The subsequent recognition and credit must then allow an accelerated programme for these learners.
  • Progression routes and opportunities must be developed to allow the learners to progress to higher levels of award (equally important for the younger learners especially progression from E2E).

(Footnote, 2015. Apprenticeships are back on the agenda at present but again the frameworks, the funding to providers, employers, apprentices are still probelamtic.)

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