How Education Cuts May Make Apprenticeships More Important Than Ever

As funding pressures mean that sixth form college students are forced to choose from an increasingly narrow range of subjects, could it be time for apprenticeships to step in and fill the gap?

The Sixth Form Colleges Association undertook their annual survey recently, finding that two-thirds of colleges had been forced to drop courses, following three funding cuts since 2011. This situation has been exacerbated by increases in the cost of employer contributions and national insurance schemes for staff.

Less Choice

With less choice for students, perhaps we could see apprenticeships filling some of the gaps with on-the-job training offering skills and knowledge in the workplace. Elsewhere, the cuts mean that extra-curricular activities which can help build confidence and team-working skills, including music, drama and sport have been cut or reduced at 58% of sixth form colleges.

As the Sixth Form Colleges Association noted, “Enrichment activities such as educational visits, sport and the Duke of Edinburgh award play a vital role in developing the skills that are valued by universities and employers and help sixth form students to become engaged and active citizens."

So, with academic options now limited for some career paths and a reduction in the soft-skills-building extra-curricular activities, apprenticeships could offer not just an alternative but, in some cases, the only real option for young people.

Apprenticeship Reality

While many young people (and their parents) see apprenticeships as something only for those ‘not good enough’ to take the academic route, or as a path only for those wishing to get into manual work or a trade, the reality is very different.

Apprenticeships are available in a wide range of different industries, offering real work experience and a wage as you train and get qualified – all without having to pay tuition fees. However, it isn’t just technical skills that an apprenticeship can teach.

Designed to help young people transition into the workplace, apprenticeships can also offer a gentler route into work – offering training and guidance to those fresh out of school or college, allowing them to transition into the workplace much more smoothly. Plus, importantly for employers, apprenticeships also teach soft skills, including communication and how to deal with the workplace environment, which is different from school.

While a government spokesperson insisted that they are “providing more than half a billion pounds this year alone to help post-16 institutions support students from disadvantaged backgrounds, or with low prior attainment," there are real fears that sixth form education may become what SFCA chief executive Bill Watkin described as “a narrow and part-time experience.”

Preparation For Work

When it comes to preparing for work nothing can beat actually getting started and finding out for yourself. An apprenticeship allows you the chance to get started in an environment that is designed to help you learn and get to grips with your chosen job. Not only this, but it offers a structured way to learn the less obvious soft skills that many employers say young people lack. The proof lies in the fact that 90% of apprentices go into their chosen profession once they qualify, while a great many students find it hard to get relevant work once they leave university.

With some A level subjects being removed from the curriculum, on-the-job training may well be the only option available for young people, which may be good news for apprenticeships, but is not so great for choice. Ideally, we all want to see a full range of options in both the academic and vocational spheres, so that young people are able to access their chosen career from the route that suits them best. Of course, to do this, we also need more information about alternative options in schools and colleges, but that is a matter for another day…

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