On Wednesday 4th May I attended an APPG meeting in the House of Commons representing BIMA on the subject of Apprentices, with a specific focus on careers advice.
The panel comprised a Chair from the House of Lords, an apprentice 'role model', MD of EAL and the CEO of the newly formed Careers and Enterprise Company. The billed MP did not show up. There was another MP in attendance but I hope she was not getting paid for her fleeting participation!
Each panel member spent a few minutes advising on what they do and then it was thrown open to the floor for questions.
There was a broad spectrum in the audience ranging from careers advisors, chairs of various skills type councils, apprenticeship bodies etc.
Overall my take outs from the conversations were three key themes:
1. There is something very wrong in the school system, which unfixed, will thwart any potential for apprenticeships to gain stronger and moving towards equal status with traditional HE routes into employment. Teachers and advisors in schools are not incentivised to understand and recommend apprenticeships as a career path. Something fundamental needs to change in the way schools and individual teachers are assessed in league tables etc, for any true and lasting change to happen. This is btw in no way a criticism of teachers and other education professionals, rather the system they are working within.
2. There is a problem with the quality of apprenticeships. How widespread this is I don’t know, nor whether some of this is perception as opposed to reality. It is clear that there needs to be greater quality assurance around all apprenticeships. BIMA is aware of the laborious process to design an apprenticeship having worked with Creative Skillset and BIS to design the Junior Content Executive apprenticeship. I am not aware of the monitoring and measuring of standards from that point forward.
3. There is both a lack of awareness and attractiveness of apprenticeships as a credible education/ career path. There is a lot of talk of role modelling but little else. There will need to be national, sustained and coordinated activity to really shift the dial on this matter.
What was most disappointing on the day is that, whilst there were some obvious themes, all of which require leadership and funding, the majority of conversation from the floor focused on small (but good) initiatives e.g. how can SMEs get involved in careers provision, why do we just target schools rather than groups such as Scouts etc. It is also clear that whilst CEC is welcomed, they are, to be frank, poorly funded and are not THE answer to the careers provision crisis in the UK.
Whilst the three points outlined above were not the Chairs conclusion (he didn’t have one!), they are the obvious take-outs.
What is perhaps most alarming is that there doesn’t seem to be anyone seeking to define the key themes and to determine what to do about them - certainly not in the APPG forum. The participation from the House of Lords and Commons was frankly laughable with the Chair and stand-in Chair both having to leave the room to vote, which they were clearly distracted by – perhaps a small sign of the true importance being placed on the issue of apprenticeships within Government.
If this Group, and I’d use that term lightly, is meant to be or do anything, then I fail to see what its objective is. It is a poor talking shop and will garner no action. I’d love to know how this feeds into anything at all that could drive action.
By continuing down a path that is factious, ill-coordinated and with no Government ownership of the big issues, this APPG and other groups like it, will continue to be little more than a talking shop. At the very least, surely the Group should collate these primary issues and use that as input into the conversations and decision-making that is happening in Government.