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The End of the Beginning - Apprenticeships

18 January 2013

What is the best way to ensure a skilled and experienced workforce? Winkworth Machinery's Grant Jamieson says experience can come only with age and that its engineers are 'very experienced'. Here is his experience...

As part of our approach to meeting this challenge and maintaining the standards we've come to expect, we decided to take on two apprentices.

Apprentices, we know, would be young, enthusiastic, ready to learn and willing to be taught. Decision made - where do we start? Approached by SEAC, South Eastern Apprenticeship Company, we had a lead and via SEAC we marketed our requirement for two mechanical apprentices.

This was a quick process - speeded up as college start dates were getting close - and within a fortnight we were interviewing.

They can start at any time, right? Yes. This turned out to be a Yes, but... Academic study is an integral part of an engineering apprenticeship, so actually starting needs to be synchronised with academic starts. Learning Point 1.

Once selected our two were offered and accepted the chance.

Winkworth was a 'virgin' at apprentice training. But with the current promotion and hype about taking on apprentices, surely it would be fairly straightforward - after all we had a deal with SEAC, the employer of the apprentices. Sponsored by Winkworth, the local college would educate them and we would be their workplace custodians, helping them develop their work ethics and skill sets in accordance with the programme. Ah yes - the programme - where is the workplace syllabus?

Where is the programme?

This question was raised with SEAC - actually they are a 'recruitment-employment vehicle' not skilled in apprenticeship content. Learning Point 2.

So it must be with the College? The College - in our case Reading College - has an academic syllabus which will be followed and they have assessors who will - in time - visit Winkworth to assess and see 'evidence' of the skills required according to the modules selected - which is according to those modules they can deliver.

Reading College is, it transpires, the training provider. Learning Point 3. They claim funds from the Government and it pays for the course they study, etc. Reading College has selected the study level and will administer the "evidence file" that ultimately allows the awarding body SEMTA to award the Advanced Engineering Apprentice Certificate provided the EAL requirements have been met. Learning Points 4, 5 and 6.

Back to my question - where is the programme?

Although a newcomer to having apprentices, I have now learned we're at the End of the Beginning.- Learning Point 7.

There is no programme - Learning Point 8. No programme of skills activities or tasks, prescribed or available in a 'pick n mix' listing we can refer to or depend on to ensure the individuals develop skills and techniques needed.

There is testing - or the need to provide evidence of the skills and techniques - but apparently no syllabus to follow to ensure the skills are there for the test. To resolve this we must 'reverse engineer' from test to syllabus. Learning Point 9.

I'm advised the days where the training provider, ie the 'College', can dictate to the apprentice sponsor "you must get them to do this, etc" are long gone. The sponsor company has to decide what skills it wants and seek to develop and design activities and provide the environment for these to materialise, then with some 'hindsight wisdom' identify from the skills learned where the "Competencies" as required by the assessors are and tick those boxes - Learning Point 10.

Now we understand the way the system works we can move forward - we're at the End of the Beginning.

As a former Royal Aircraft Establishment apprentice, a former government establishment with experience of training about 100 apprentices for nearly 100 years, I have found it alarming that the frameworks and knowledge accumulated in the RAE and the hundreds of other government training establishments haven't been harnessed and used in support of apprenticeships of today. This is a sad loss. Vince Cable - if you're reading - now would be a good time to address this.

As I said at the beginning, experience can only come with age. I feel more experienced now!


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