From sceptic to enthusiast, Learning and Development Manager Samantha Matchett’s relationship with apprenticeships has changed dramatically over the years. With 11 years of experience in L&D roles, Samantha currently manages all training and development at Lifetime Training. Here she shares her unique perspective of the shifting apprenticeship landscape, providing insights and tips to L&D Managers seeking to understand the apprenticeship landscape.

Why I was Wrong about Apprenticeships

From sceptic to enthusiast, my career has given me a unique viewpoint on apprenticeships: I understand the perspective of both client and training provider. When I first began working in learning and development 11 years ago, I had no real knowledge about what apprenticeships entailed. But I soon discovered the benefits when developing an apprenticeship programme during my previous role.

Since joining Lifetime Training my understanding of apprenticeships has grown and I can now say I am fully bought in!

My initial scepticism

I wasn’t always so informed about apprenticeships. In a previous role I was looking for a formal qualification that could support the business’s Deputy Manager programme. I’m almost ashamed to say that apprenticeships were attractive (at least initially) because of budget restrictions; I still had reservations about the actual value of apprenticeships.

But as I began exploring, I realised that the content of the apprenticeship mapped across to our internal course very neatly. As a result, we began looking at other career pathways within the business and evaluating the viability of apprenticeships for those.

I had thought they were predominantly designed for those looking to learn a trade, or for less academic learners that were unable to get into university. I now understand that apprenticeships are available all the way to Level 7, which is equivalent to a master’s degree.

Apprenticeships were the solution

Although we considered alternative solutions that existed in the marketplace, and were available for a similar outlay, none offered the structure and real-world application of apprenticeships. The support and guidance that I received from our chosen provider Lifetime Training helped us to grow and implement a range of apprenticeship programmes across the business.

Seeing real-world successes spurred me on to start attending schools and career fairs, not only to recruit promising apprentices, but to tackle some of those misconceptions that unfortunately still exist.

Organisational benefits of apprenticeships

I quickly began to understand the real-world benefits of apprenticeships. One key benefit to an employer is that an apprentice is likely to be more productive in their role. I have personally conducted some analysis that demonstrates how return on investment grows as a direct result of implementing an apprenticeship programme.

We also saw improvements in several key performance indicators, and the supporting of existing talent strategies. Perhaps even more importantly, I’ve seen a big improvement in many learners’ self-confidence – particularly in those learners who don’t consider themselves to be academic by nature.

Often, these learners are just as capable but require a different approach: formal education can be very prescriptive.

The new world of apprenticeship standards

My time at Lifetime has broadened my understanding of the “new world” of apprenticeships, with the move away from frameworks and towards standards.

I believe the move towards standards has improved, and will continue to improve, the quality of apprenticeships. I particularly admire the emerging “coaching” approach that encourages learners to take ownership of their own learning, which represents a shift away from formal Pathways.

Coaching builds confidence in the learner and encourages creative thought and reflection. Generally, I see a more holistic approach emerging that focusses on the learner’s strengths and achievements – that can only be a good thing!

Coaching builds confidence in the learner and encourages creative thought and reflection. Generally, I see a more holistic approach emerging that focusses on the learner’s strengths and achievements – that can only be a good thing!

Apprenticeships and formal learning pathways

I think the main point-of-difference and benefit of an apprenticeship over formal learning pathways is the focus on “life skills” that not only develop the learner within their chosen role but have real-world applications that help to build the individual’s confidence and competence in everyday life.

The content of contemporary apprenticeships is also more sophisticated and academic than it used to be but is delivered via more user-friendly methods than traditional, formal routes. They’re designed to stretch the learner whilst remaining achievable. Some individuals prefer formal education routes, and that’s fine, but the learnings are less practical and easy to implement.

Tips for Learning and Development Managers

For Learning and Development Managers considering an Apprenticeship Programme: to be frank, you need to put “educational snobbery” to one side. Don’t underestimate the quality of today’s apprenticeships.

Think about what you want from an apprenticeship programme and how that ties in with your current learning and development provision, and consider how you can work with a provider to get flexibility within the programme so that it works for you and with your existing learning and development resources. It’s also worth mapping your training to apprenticeship standards to reinforce learning.

Finally, don’t abdicate all responsibility for the programme to your chosen apprenticeship provider; work with your learning and development team – and wider management team – to agree the goals of the programme. Relevancy is the key to success.

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