The Truth About Apprenticeships

Published on New Left Project, , March 25, 2013.

They’re constantly cited as a priceless first rung on the employment ladder in an economy with few jobs and one of the few, true saving graces, that could stall and even reverse the escalating youth unemployment situation in Britain … //

… Apprenticeships and Benefits Cuts:

  • The elephant in the room is the government’s current dismantling of the welfare system, whose focus on “workfare” is part of an enormous scheme to radically cut government spending. By pushing the growth of apprenticeships the coalition pays less in JSA and a reduced amount to apprentice employers in grants and learning fee costs, thereby serving their aim of spending cuts quite well. On top of this is the problem of how to ensure that apprenticeships equal secure employment at a time when industries are cutting back and shedding jobs. In this way, could apprenticeships be a sop thrown to make us think something is being done to tackle unemployment when in reality it is just masking the problem?
  • Michael, 16, from Liverpool, is currently employed at a large charity shop through the retail apprenticeship scheme which he enrolled on in July this year. He is concerned about the pay, his conditions at work alongside the value of his apprenticeship and is considering leaving the course due to financial worries that he suggests have worsened for himself and his family since starting as an apprentice.
  • “I work 37.5 hours a week for £100 a week with around 20 other staff, most of who are on some sort of work placement or volunteers. My auntie, who I live with, has lost around £70 a week in benefits due to me going on this apprenticeship because I’m now classed as being in full-time employment. The council has done things like deduct £3 per week from her housing benefit which I’ve been told I must now pay. I don’t get any separate travel expenses so I’ve also got to pay for the two hours travel per day out of my wages. By me going on this apprenticeship we’re worse off than when I was in college so I’m considering leaving the scheme and going back into education. People who are on an apprenticeship should be paid minimum wage because they are working for and benefitting the company. £2.60 per hour is pure slave labour.”

Low Pay: … //

… Training:

  • It’s not just in these ways that some apprenticeships have come under fire. The core component of apprenticeships is adequate training to ensure that apprentices come away from their placement with adequate training and skills to do a specific job well. Employers, with financial help from the government, should at least have adequate training programmes in place for apprentices, if not the in-house training that is widely provided to apprentices in Germany. However in some instances this has led to situation in which training providers, instead of focusing on the highest quality content,undercut each other to provide the cheapest service possible to employers to secure contracts. Without substantial monitoring by the government to make sure this doesn’t happen, apprentices can sometimes come away without adequate training for their chosen field. In Michael’s case he believes that the training in his apprenticeship has been inadequate.
  • “The training I’ve been given has been pretty minimal; they trained me up to work on the shop floor then stopped and college has said that they will just send me a work pack out to complete at home to obtain my NVQ in retail and functional skills. I applied to be a retail assistant; working on tills and focusing on customer service but the manager is using me to do all the odd jobs that no one else really wants to do, like cleaning the toilets and washing up used cutlery in the staffroom.
  • “There are good apprenticeships out there but I don’t think mine is one of them. If I had the opportunity to move around different shops, work in the head office or even in the fundraising department I’d have a much more rounded experience and a lot more opportunities to specialise and progress in retail. It seems like the managers haven’t bothered to create an adequate learning programme for the apprentices which makes me question their motives behind offering apprenticeships. I don’t think they took me on for the right reasons.
  • “The apprenticeship could help me quite a lot in terms of getting an entry level job because it proves that I have some experience but I’m missing a lot of the skills I’d have liked to have gained to work my way up in retail. I think after a few weeks of working at the shop I’d gained all the worthwhile experience it seems I’m going to ever get whilst working there so now I just feel like I’m being kept on as cheap labour. I don’t think that the qualifications are that important in themselves either, it looks like they just added the paper qualification on to make it sound more official.”
  • Even Justin King, CEO of Sainsbury’s parent company (J Sainsbury PLC), has commented on the ambiguous makeup of some schemes doled out as “apprenticeships” to potential applicants.
  • Talking to Channel 4’s Faisal Islam in September, he said: “I believe the word apprentice has become hijacked. A lot of things masquerade as apprenticeships which are not what you and I would recognise as an apprenticeship – learning a skill over an extended period of time.”

Conclusion:

  • Apprenticeships can be an invaluable platform into a skilled career, if they offer the right sort of training and prospects. Yet in some instances in Britain the term acts as little more than a cover for government-endorsed cheap labour that struggles to ensure secure employment for all those who successfully complete the courses or even substantial training. The existence of unscrupulous, self-interested apprentice employers suggests that the government is not actively ensuring that apprenticeships are offered for the right reasons.
  • Apprenticeships should be equipping people with adequate practical experience and knowledge to become competent in their fields. They should also be financially practical, which the £2.60 rate is not, especially for those with existing jobs or dependents to provide for. To make someone choose between practical skills development and continuing their existing job which pays enough to make ends meet, denies many people the opportunity to become specialists in a certain role.
  • Apprenticeships should not be a tool to reduce companies’ overheads, threaten existing employees’ jobs and offer false hope of secure, long-term employment to apprentices. They should also not act as cut price JSA which could keep people in a continuous apprenticeship cycle in a society bereft of jobs or as an indicator that the government is doing something to tackle the UK’s unemployment problem. Without investment to create long-term jobs and develop industries, apprenticeships can’t resolve this issue. What they are doing is hiding the reality of joblessness, particularly the real levels of youth unemployment in the UK.

(full text including hyperlinks).

Links:

Apprenticeship on en.wikipedia;

Consumer watchdog unveils list of top lending gripes, on RedTape, by Bob Sullivan, March 28, 2013;

Census Shows Record 1 in 3 US Counties are Dying, on Time/U.S., by Hope Yen, March 14, 2013.

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