Through its British Poultry Training programme the poultry industry is embracing apprenticeships. They fit nicely over our own minimum standards and as a concept are accessible to new starters as part of a career path.
Apprenticeships are however a throwback to when Government resources and funding were many and extensive. Not so long ago industry often went with the training that was funded. With the dramatic collapse of funding responsible companies have taken training decisions into their own hands, are more careful where they invest their money, and have greater expectations of the outcomes.
The Government agencies, such as the National Apprenticeship Service, have been doing a great job in facilitating more young people through the system. We may question the structure or detail of apprenticeships but we must not lose sight of the fact that getting young people into long-term employment is the object of the exercise.
Apprenticeships are the only qualifications where funding is available, and the last eighteen months has seen a massive increase in uptake; surely no coincidence. The problem we’re now facing is that Government can’t stop dabbling and keeps on adding new requirements. Age limits, non-contextual functional skills, and restrictions on existing employees are examples.
Some of these requirements have a serious purpose; foremost among them is to prohibit unscrupulous employers using apprentices as a cheap short-term labour resource. But then there are the responsible employers who are genuinely looking to add value to their long-term labour needs. We can’t magic up new positions to fill with apprenticeships, in fact the entire poultry industry can only realistically support a score of new apprentices every year. These will be planned positions that would be filled by new starters, whether titled apprentices or not.
So responsible companies are faced with increasing challenges that limit the amount of benefit that being part of the apprenticeship structure can bring. These issues are hoops that employers have to jump through, and they gradually get higher and smaller. Employers and sectors now have to identify the balance between access to funding and the unnecessary difficulties of getting learners through the process. So what happens when the funding for apprenticeships drops or is removed entirely?
The answer is simple: employers will bail out of apprenticeships. This will negate all the aspirations that Government has invested in the scheme. Some sectors won’t suffer too much; the poultry industry is already committed to minimum standards so our employees wouldn’t see a difference in their training. Others will stop their training entirely, which would be a shame given the promise of apprenticeships.
Ultimately apprenticeships are an old fashioned concept that may have been superseded in the modern workplace. They rely on funding to give them relevance to employers. It is relatively straightforward in the new training structure for sectors to set their own accredited and bespoke standards, which depends not one jot on Government requirements.
It would be disingenuous to say that apprenticeships are little more than a badge and a funding stream. The benefit to individuals who have entered the poultry industry under this banner, and who now have a long-term future with us, is phenomenal. More realistically this is about the process of transferring responsibility from Government to employers. We need apprenticeships, perhaps not by that name or in the current structure, but we do need the theory embedded in the business psyche; the idea that young people entering the workplace will be nurtured into a worthwhile career.
Training is now firmly a commercial sector, and industry has reacted positively to that change because it’s familiar. What we need to think about is how we can make apprenticeships part of a market driven structure.