In Praise of Apprenticeships

What we need in education is to move away from the one-size-fits-all conveyor belt. What we need is choice and diversity so that different children with their differing talents, needs and interests can access education which is suited not only to their age, but to their aptitude and ability. For this reason, I welcome the resurgence in apprenticeship opportunities for young people.

At 16, staying on at school is not going to be the preferred option for all, or even most, youngsters. Continued academic study, and the ongoing path to University, will not be the right path for everyone. It is a particular concern that young people drift towards University without any real idea of what they want to do at the end of their course, nowadays accruing huge debt before they even commence their working life.

An apprenticeship combines practical training in a job with ongoing study, and there are a whole range of opportunities on offer - from food to farming, hairdressing to hospitality, engineering to education. As an apprentice, a young person gets to work alongside experienced staff, gain job-specific skills, earn a wage and get holiday pay and time for study related to their role. Apprenticeships take 1 to 5 years to complete, depending on their level, and can be applied for from the age of 16. It is good to see that some apprenticeships have no academic entry requirements, which is great news for so many young people who may have great personal and practical skills which are not reflected in formal academic exam results.

My eldest son was all set to stay on at the engineering academy he has attended since September 2016 to do his A-Levels. He had the place conditional on his GCSE results, and was considering a degree-apprenticeship after A-Levels, at age 18. However, rather last minute, his attention was drawn to an apprenticeship at WMG - The Warwick Manufacturing Group, a place he had become familiar with through his work with the F1 in Schools project in which he had achieved such success. He decided this kind of work-based, real life, project-based learning would be a far more preferable route forward for him than remaining in the classroom. So he decided to apply.

Last week, he had his interview. My only job was to get him to the building on the University campus for 11.00. This is normally a 10 minute drive. We left half an hour, to ensure he was there in good time. It was absolutely pouring with rain, and unfortunately, a car had overturned on the dual carriageway near our house. We ran into gridlock. There was nothing to do but crawl along in the traffic jam, and make a huge loop of a diversion during which time I tried not to let my stress show. My son didn't seem too perturbed, and phoned them from the car to explain and to say he would probably be unavoidably late. I dropped him off at the door, with some relief at 11.02.

In spite of this drama, he felt the interview went as well as it could have done. He presented a portfolio of his engineering work over the years, and his predicted grades for GCSE. He chatted about his projects, and the experience of F1 in Schools and designing the Fastest Car at the World Finals last year. He is an accomplished engineer. He didn't think he could have said or done any more than he did. And so we waited two days for their decision.

It is a great joy and delight to me that he was given an unconditional offer for an apprenticeship starting in September. WMG is at the cutting edge of research, education and technology, working with organisations such as Airbus, Arup, AstraZeneca, BAE Systems, GlaxoSmithKline, Jaguar Land Rover, Network Rail, Rolls-Royce, Siemens, TATA Motors, TATA Steel, and TVS Motors to tackle major challenges and opportunities, connecting with businesses, students, and government organisations worldwide, believing in innovation and cooperation to overcome shared global challenges. It is a wonderful thing that my son, the engineer, will be able to learn and work in such a dynamic environment amongst others who share his passion for engineering. It is a wonderful thing that he is thriving in his area of gifting and enthusiasm. It is wonderful that this project-based learner, having spent only 9 terms in British classrooms in his school career, will be able to work and learn in an innovative environment which will value his quirkiness, indeed welcome it.

I am excited for the next chapter in his ongoing life of learning. It is a delight to see our children achieve in their area of passion and expertise. And the fact he will be earning from September is an added bonus.