Why I was wrong about apprenticeships

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Samantha Matchett, Lifetime’s Learning and Development Manager, tells us how her perception on apprenticeships has shifted.

Can you remember a time when you were less knowledgeable about apprenticeships?

Certainly! I began working in leadership and development eleven years ago and, prior to that, I had no real knowledge about what apprenticeships entailed.

What were your misconceptions about apprenticeships?

I had thought that 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 through to level seven, which is equivalent to a master’s degree.

What do you consider to be the key differences between apprenticeships and more 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.

When were you exposed to the reality of apprenticeships, and how did that shift your perception?

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 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.

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 Lifetime Training, our chosen provider, helped us to grow and implement a range of apprenticeship programmes within 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 around apprenticeships. This culminated in me writing an article about an e-book that Boots had developed which explored how employers could help to raise the profile of apprenticeships nationally.

Can you tell us about your role at Lifetime Training and explain how it intersects with apprenticeships?

I joined Lifetime Training two years ago, and feel it’s given me a unique viewpoint; I’ve seen things from the perspective of both a client and a training provider. I now realise the effort and number of resources that go into developing an apprenticeship programme for a client!

During my time at Lifetime I have been assigned to the reform project which has broadened my understanding of the “new world” of apprenticeships, with the move away from frameworks and towards standards. I have also been involved in the development of the Inspiring Leadership programme, a level three apprenticeship for internal managers which asks, “how do we promote the benefits of apprenticeship standards within the business” and aims to raise the profile of apprenticeships amongst our senior teams. Alongside this, I have worked on our Evolving Talent programme, which is another internal programme that has been developed to support apprentices working within Lifetime. It offers our learners opportunities like job shadowing, to help them build their knowledge of the business, and encourages them to attend events which will help to improve this knowledge further.

I’ve learnt that what’s most important is finding the right learning programme for the right individual. I say this because a lot of the learning is self-directed, so apprentices need to be fully aware of what their apprenticeship will involve and motivated to achieve.

What would your advice be to other LDMS who are considering an apprenticeship programme, or haven't yet implemented one?

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!

What successes and benefits have you seen?

Once everyone begins to see the real-world benefits of apprenticeships, it becomes clear that they bring a lot to the party! For example, 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 function of implementing an apprenticeship programme. We also see improvements in a number of key performance indicators, and a 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.

Finally, you can talk us through how you think the move from frameworks to standard has affected the quality of apprenticeship provision?

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!

Thank you very much for your time, Sam

Thank you.

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