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Why apprenticeships provide a ladder of opportunity

Why apprenticeships provide a ladder of opportunity

Education Select Committee Chair, Robert Halfon MP and UK Head of People, Anna Purchas have written an article arguing that more needs to be done to help alter perceptions of apprenticeships , and that the focus must be on their quality, and not just quantity.

Anna Purchas

Head of People

KPMG in the UK


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Picture the scene, it’s A level results day at schools and colleges around the country. Everywhere students are opening their envelopes and cheering because they have received the qualifications they need to pursue their chosen path. Now a question – out of all of those students, how many do you think you will see on national or local news receiving their results and rejoicing because they have received the grades they need to get on to the apprenticeship programme of their choice? We know they’re out there, but the media focus tends to be on those who receive offers to top universities. Wouldn’t it be great if this could change…?

Both Anna Purchas, Head of People at KPMG, and Chair of the Education Select Committee, Robert Halfon MP, agree that more needs to be done to help alter public perceptions of apprenticeships. Anna says: “As a firm that is a strong advocate of apprenticeships, and improving the career choices for young people in the UK, we want this image to change, and we are committed to being part of that change.”

Halfon is recognised as a champion of apprenticeships, having been the first MP to recruit an apprentice in parliament, and subsequently serving as Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills. He concurs that fundamental change is needed, he says “The current obsession with full academic degrees in this country must end. Now is the time for a radical overhaul of higher education to boost the level of skills in this country, end social injustice and help the most disadvantaged climb the educational ladder of opportunity.”

Over the last few years apprenticeships have been changing with the introduction of the apprenticeship standards created by employers. In 2015, the Government announced a commitment to create three million more apprenticeships by 2020, and the current statistics show around 900,000 of these are in operation, the highest levels ever recorded in the UK. However more needs to be done. The focus must be on the quality of the apprenticeships and not just the numbers.

KPMG sponsored research from the think tank Policy Exchange, states that the Government needs to put quality at the heart of all apprenticeship programmes in order for any benefits to be realised. Halfon explains that the Education Select Committee are doing just that: “An enquiry is currently being undertaken in to the quality of apprenticeships and skills training. We are looking at whether employers, learners and tax payers are getting value for the time and money invested in training, and whether more needs to be done to detect poor-quality provision.”

Purchas continues “At KPMG we place a high value on the routes we offer in to our business, including three distinct apprenticeship programmes. We are extremely excited to have recently introduced our first Digital Degree Apprenticeship which is a four year programme offering on-the- job experience alongside studying for a BSc degree in Digital and Technology solutions with training provider BPP.”

Both agree on the importance of degree apprenticeships, Halfon says “Degree apprenticeships are a remarkable example of a vehicle that blends technical and academic education, and, could be the crown jewel in a revamped technical offering. Students earn as they learn, they do not incur mountains of debt, and they get good quality jobs at the end. It’s absolutely vital that more universities and businesses start to offer them to prospective students.”

Purchas continues “We also continue to grow our Graduate Programme, this year offering opportunities in more UK offices than ever before. It is essential for us as a firm to place the same high value on our apprentices as we do our graduates. These individuals work, learn and progress together and complement each other through their diverse backgrounds and ways of thinking.” This ethos also rings true with Halfon who says: “No longer should there be a divide between technical and academic education and there must be closer links between further and higher education. They should be seen as intertwined – two parts of the same system of self-improvement and both equally well supported.”

Anna concludes “The advantages of offering a variety of different routes in to our organisation is clear to see. We believe that recruiting a combination of graduates and apprentices encourages a wide range of people with different skills and experiences to join us – all of which contributes to the diversity of thought we are able to bring to our business, our clients and the communities we work in, who are all reaping the benefits. When it comes to improving the career choices for young people in the UK one of the biggest challenges we face is encouraging young people and their parents to view this new generation of apprenticeships as the ‘game changer’ they are.

“There is much work to be done, but with collaboration from business, government and educators we are on the right path. I am confident that sometime in the near future we will see more apprentices cheering and waving their envelopes in the air as part of the televised few.”

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