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Apprentices

March 25, 2015

I was on the tv show The Apprentice once.  Only in the background, when the apprentices did an “advertising” challenge and my then-branch of the WI were invited to provide some background Members Of The Public, but still, I was there.

Originally of course the tv show was about finding someone who would work in, and be trained up in, a business.  Now that it’s all about Alan Sugar finding someone in whose business he wants to invest, surely “The Apprentice” is a misnomer?  Surely it should be called something else?  (I rather like “Enter the Dragons”!)

What does the word “apprentice” mean to you?  I always thought it was a sort of official status – part of a continuum which went apprentice -> journeyman -> master.  Someone who is just starting out but learning on the job, who will later become a skilled worker paid a daily rate (“journeyman” from the French “jour” for day).  And who might ultimately produce a “masterpiece” – the equivalent of passing a final exam by producing a piece of work demonstrating sufficient skill to enrol a journeyman as a full member into a guild and allow them to take on apprentices of their own.

Well yes, I realise we don’t actually live in the middle ages any more, and the guild system is about as relevant to trade as Friendly Societies are to insurance, but I did, in the not TOO distant past, teach apprentices at a further eduction college.  There were building and hairdressing and motor trade apprentices who worked at their trades most of the time but were sent to the college on “day release” for one or two days a week for the formal part of their training.  No, I didn’t teach a trade: I was employed as a lecturer in drama and communication skills so I taught “communications”.  And, trust me, teaching a 6pm class of motor mechanics who can go to the pub once they’ve finished their communications skills lesson is an, er, interesting experience.  Rumour has it the person who drew the short straw in a previous year was tied to a chair and put in a cupboard so I consider I did reasonably well to have survived an entire term without a nervous breakdown.

However.

To get back to my point, I do not think apprentice means what the government thinks it means.  Look at this, an important piece of research by Lorna Unwin and Alison Fuller at UCL, a fact check of Vince Cable’s claim that the government has created 2.1m apprenticeships.  There is a sense in which it’s true: 2.1 million people have been registered as starting apprenticeships, but there’s no way of telling if that represents 2.1 million people starting new positions or whether some (many?  How many?) are existing jobs being converted into “apprenticeships” by the addition of external training.

Their apprenticeship will have involved having their existing skills accredited plus tuition to pass the “Functional Skills” tests in maths, English and information and communications technology. Some will have developed new skills, but government doesn’t check this.

Survey data suggests that the “conversion rate” in some sectors such as health and social care, where older apprentices dominate, is as high as 90%.

Older apprentices?  Yes, if you read the article in full, you’ll learn the – to me, at any rate – staggering fact that “we have around 3,000 apprentices aged 60 and over.” (The statistical sources for the article can be found here).

Coincidentally, the same day that I saw this article I followed some links on an entirely different topic and, in that tangential way that you proceed on the internet, found myself boggled again.  I tweeted this:

Yes, HMRC are recruiting 200 extra customer service operatives (presumably to staff their telephone helplines) and – because they will be trained to an externally recognised standard – are, entirely legitimately it seems, calling the jobs apprenticeships.

you-keep-using-that-word

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