During recent years, there have been calls for the UK to do more to promote apprenticeships for those young students and ambitious young adults who desire the opportunities that apprenticeships offer. As a result, a push was made to increase apprenticeships throughout the country and recently there has been a fair amount of coverage lauding the progress of these programs. Here’s a recent article on how Tesco is to create 20,000 new jobs, and open apprenticeships to external candidates.

This all may sound like great news for young, eager engineers in the making, interested in snagging an apprenticeship, but upon closer inspection, the numbers are a bit deceptive.

In 2011, there was an increase of 63.5 percent over the previous year for apprenticeships. The presses come to a halt, lawmakers pat themselves on the back, and someone declares, ‘Mission accomplished.’ But is it? In reality, most of that increase in apprenticeships comes from customer service companies, such as Starbucks or Tesco.

When one thinks about apprenticeships, though, do they truly think of baristas? Do they consider that taking café orders to be a disciplined career choice? Something that will lead to a career in customer service? What about the engineers of the nation, or those that wish to build their careers for companies of innovative pedigree and prestige? While no one will take away the accomplishments of these customer service apprentices, the true value of the increase in apprenticeships during the past two years must be taken with a grain of salt.

The ultimate goal of focusing on apprenticeships has been to reduce unemployment during a time when unemployment has been extremely high for far too long, do these numbers do any justice, or do they do more harm in the long run? Why not just focus on offering more ‘vocational training’ for these future engineers? Unfortunately, language makes a considerable difference. Vocational training is viewed much differently than an ‘apprenticeship’, though they are essentially the same at their core.

So while major companies, such as BMW for one, are working to increase the training and pool of talent for their futures through training and apprenticeships, other industries have taken to offering apprenticeships that do not hold the same value as those for engineering do. It’s important to understand all of the numbers that are being tossed around continue to disguise the fact that engineering apprenticeships are still a vital ingredient to the long term health and success of a number of innovative industries.

The definition of apprenticeship is slipping away, and what can be lost ultimately are opportunities that ambitious engineers in the making might otherwise have.

One comment

  • Sean Durrant

    So using the word Apprenticeship for a wide variety of Non Engineering jobs is having a negative impact on the value of the Apprenticeship. As somebody that has worked in Engineering for over 20 years I understand what you mean.

    The issue still remains how Engineering Companies can encourage young people into Engineering Apprenticeships. Think back to your Apprenticeship days, are the training opportunities and conditions the same or better?

    Unless we can learn how to engage and enthuse school leavers into the industry then we are at a serious risk of losing our Engineering heritage

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