It is National Apprenticeship week this week.
The "National Week of ...... whatever" is generally dedicated to raising awareness for a specific cause. This is one that strikes a chord with me. My own awareness of this particular cause has grown over the last couple of years, working with a client who is fully committed to increasing the number of apprenticeships within design and engineering to maintain and improve these skills in the UK. Indeed, Martin Stevens (CEO, A1 Technologies) has dedicated much of his professional life and a great deal of his own time to championing apprenticeships, specifically in these sectors.
My dad was an apprentice (Electrician), he was not particularly academic, and left school at the earliest opportunity. Sitting around was not an option — social and family pressures would not permit such idleness, and he would not have dreamed of fighting against it. Learning a trade while earning money (albeit a pittance) was an acceptable alternative, and he retired a few years ago from an extremely well paid career as a Project Manager, overseeing multi-million pound electrical installations.
The ethos behind today's apprenticeship schemes has not changed much — opportunities are open to young people to identify a profession of interest and to learn as they work (still for a pittance). The value of working alongside people with hands-on experience cannot be overstated. What has changed — dramatically — is the social and cultural pressures surrounding young people. Doing something rather than nothing is considered a joke, particularly when the 'something' pays considerably less than the 'nothing.' Society is now so greatly fragmented, with a constant "me, Me, ME" mentality, that the greater good is all but ignored, overlooked or forgotten.
Expounding the virtues of apprenticeships is a worthy goal, but until social and family values widely echo those of our ancestors once again, it is unlikely that apprenticeships will hold much appeal for today's teenagers in any great number.
One ray of hope, which confronted me just this morning, and prompting this post, is that the University fees debate, might just work in favour of apprenticeships. With the prospect of mounting debts putting potential students of low-middle income families off university, apprenticeship schemes could win out? It is a question I am posing, rather than a statement of fact.
I will be watching for the answer.