College job expert speaks out about apprenticeships in Milton Keynes

Today, to mark the start of National Apprentice Week, an MK College expert has written a frank blog disputing the theory that apprenticeships can offer "minimal training and low wages ".

Monday, 3rd February 2020, 6:40 pm
Updated Monday, 3rd February 2020, 6:42 pm

Tracey Matthews, Assistant Principal for apprenticeships and adult education at the college is responding to a recent report from the education think-tank, EDSK.

She writes: 'In this National Apprenticeship Week, many parents and potential students in Milton Keynes will have been disturbed by a recent report EDSK, which painted a bleak picture of the quality of apprenticeships. It stated that many provided by larger businesses were offering minimal training and low wages.

The claim is that these companies are spending the available funding from government filling job vacancies on the cheap with little hope of serious career progression for the apprentices involved.

Tracey Matthews

While there’s no doubt abuses do take place there are thousands of quality apprenticeships out there involving committed employers and training providers like Milton Keynes College where we are determined to hold to the true spirit of the apprenticeship programme.

When we speak to employers we establish right from the start how they see the apprentice’s career developing. If they’re just looking for a low-paid, low-skilled employee on a fixed term contract with few or little prospects we won’t take the job on.

MK College is not the right provider for any employer whose motivation is to pay low wages with few or little prospects. If they’re just looking for a low-skilled, “right peg in the right hole” with few or little prospects we frankly will not take their money. We would like to think this is one of the reasons why our apprenticeships numbers have continued to grow.

In the past two years we’ve seen numbers increase by 55 per cent, from fewer than two hundred to more than three hundred a year.

The current system of apprenticeships is now twenty-five years old, and over that quarter of a century we have seen overall quality increase along with growing awareness of the fact, particularly among the young, that they are now a genuine alternative to A-Levels and university.

“Earning while you learn,” is an extremely attractive prospect and in this high employment economy apprenticeship starting salaries are becoming increasingly attractive. For example the average starting salary for an apprentice software developer is around £15,000 a year, £13,000 for an assistant accountant and £15,000 for an engineering technician.

The constant increase in uptake is also proof that employers are getting it. There has never been a time since the Industrial Revolution when technological change in all sectors has come at such a pace, and businesses appreciate they must adapt or die, and that good training is the gateway to a competitive and productive workforce. Apprentices who see the opportunity for good career progression are far more likely to stay with a particular employer for longer. This makes apprenticeships an effective method for avoiding constant recruitment with all its accompanying costs and loss of productivity.

For those less familiar with apprenticeships it’s worth pointing out that these are not simply “turn up and you’ll get a certificate” qualifications. All apprentices undergo an independent EPA or End Point Assessment at the end of their learning programme. A hairdressing apprentice will endure a full day of observation from an outside expert meticulously reviewing a day of treatments and cuts with forensic attention to detail and be graded on their performance. For an IT apprentice the EPA lasts four days during which time they will be faced with a whole series of real-life tasks to undertake. These are not exams people can cram for and then forget everything once the marks are announced.

These are genuinely rigorous tests of competence and knowledge, and if the course content has been inadequate there is nowhere to hide because the results will be so too.

To date, more than 80 per cent of our qualifying apprentices have achieved with distinctions and the vast majority are kept on by employers after they qualify with increased responsibility, salaries and progression into further learning.

Apprenticeships are not a lazy option for companies which want to hire their lowest skilled workers on the cheap nor are they easy for the person taking them. They’re tough and demanding, and so they should be if they’re to turn out knowledgeable, adaptable and resourceful workers.

If you or your child is after an easy ride, best to look elsewhere. If they want to transition from school to work with a strong grounding in their chosen field and the genuine prospect of a fulfilling and lucrative career, look no further.'

To find out more about apprenticeships at MK College, email [email protected]