The advantages of apprenticeships are well understood. They endorse learning by doing, bring students into working environments and allow them to earn a wage rather than build up debt, and provide real industry experience as well as the class-room-taught theory behind it.
For students and employers it is a perfect training system. Yet in common culture, apprenticeships always seem to rank second to a degree. Despite all the positives described above, we hear more about the negatives: that certain careers – medicine, jobs in science – aren’t attainable through an apprenticeship, and that graduate jobs in general often provide higher salaries. There are truths in some of these negatives, but there are stereotypes and stigmas at work too. Namely, the old fashioned, outdated notion that apprenticeships are the poor cousin of university education; useful only as a backup option, a rectifier if GCSE’s or A-Levels go wrong and primary ambitions cannot be met.
It’s an issue worldwide, not just in Northern Ireland, that the bachelor’s degree seems to socially undermine apprenticeships and ‘blue-collar’ work. The difference between education and training is seen as the difference between ambition and settling, but the fact is that this assumption doesn’t work any more – doesn’t work anywhere. It’s believed that there are over 9 million unemployed people in America, but there are also five million unfilled jobs, suggesting the problem isn’t a lack of skills, but a mismatch of skills compared to the jobs available. In Germany they attempt to avoid this problem by using apprentice training programs that focus as much on the workplace as the classroom, and point people in the direction of industries with lots of work, such as car manufacturing.
In Northern Ireland, tackling the underestimation of apprenticeships is a major part of tackling these issues. The NI Business News on BBC Radio Ulster discussed: ‘whenever you hear the word apprentice you might normally think of the trades, people like joiners, plumbers and electricians. But more and more the financial services sector is getting in on it.’
Businesses are seeing that in an ever-changing world, getting students straight from school and into work early can be beneficial, and it is not just these trades that are looking at apprenticeship programmes any more. On The NI Business News, Ciaran O’Neill, head of talent at Deloitte said: ‘there’s a fantastic pool of talent now available at the school leaver’s stage that we have traditionally not tapped into until they have left university. They are much more worldly aware…much more innovative and thinking differently, and by bringing these people into our business at this stage they’re helping us really solve challenges and client problems that we’re facing at the minute.’
People are beginning to see that degrees and apprenticeships are no longer two completely separate journeys, but merely different paths
O’Neill referenced a similar issue to that in America, saying: ‘We hear a lot about a mismatch of talent in Northern Ireland. Lots of people are looking for jobs and yet employers are saying they can’t find the right people…at eighteen and eighteen plus we’re bringing these people in to have a five year programme where they’re gaining a degree, professional qualifications, and most importantly on the job learning.’
Government funding regimes, such as ApprenticeshipsNI are funding work-based training programmes that train students towards industry standards and meets the needs for the employer. It’s a programme that is challenging the long term social convention by applying the highest level of education available to an apprenticeships programme. As a result, people are beginning to see that degrees and apprenticeships are no longer two completely separate journeys, but merely different paths; and with better facilities and training available than ever, the advantages of the latter have never been more valuable.
To find out more about our Apprenticeships, Higher Level Apprenticeships and Foundation Degree options in Construction and Engineering, come along to our Construction & Engineering Employer Engagement Morning this Saturday 7th May 10am-1pm at our Omagh Campus
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