Falling numbers in university students can take the current workforce to a shortage of specialised and high-skilled future professionals. However, far from being just an issue, Develop Training Limited (DTL), a provider to the utilities and construction sector, thinks of it as an opportunity to bring undergraduate to the line-up of major businesses and end their studies there. Moreover, apprenticeships are seen as the perfect alternative to meet the hiring needs while providing expertise and training to new generations.
Many commentators have blamed high tuition fees for a growing number of young people applying for university, raising fears of a lack of social mobility. Nonetheless, school leavers give other reasons too, including that they don’t enjoy studying or don’t think they have the necessary academic skills for university.
The training company DLT says that apprenticeships have the capability, not just to provide an alternative to university but also to address the wider issues.
Operations Director, John Kerr, says: “Instead of racking up student debt, apprentices earn while they learn, and apprenticeships provide other ways of learning for those who aren’t suited to academia. At DTL, we specialise in practical training for high earning roles in utilities and construction. Yes, there is an element of classroom learning but for most of our apprenticeships, the focus is on learning through well-supervised, genuine on-the-job experience.”
Mr Kerr says that apprenticeships can also generate social mobility, even beyond what might be expected from gaining a practical qualification and a well-paid job. He explains: “As an organisation that believes in providing a holistic educational experience, we support many young people who have fallen behind with academic learning.” Crucially, he points out, that includes ensuring that apprentices attain satisfactory levels of literacy and numeracy.
Ensuring students attain a set level of literacy and numeracy is a requirement made of apprenticeship providers by the educational watchdog Ofsted, and DTL has invested in technology and teaching to ensure that apprentices reach the levels they need, not just to attain their qualification but also to equip them for life.
“Clearly, people who have poor literacy or numeracy, or both, are going to be disadvantaged,” says Mr Kerr. “This is a significant step in giving them social mobility.”
With these crucial core skills and the confidence of having completed an apprenticeship, they might well go on to get a university degree or similar-level qualification, he points out.
Mr Kerr adds: “For us at DTL, this is much more than a question of meeting the requirements of the regulator. You can see this in our response to another Ofsted instruction. We have pioneered the introduction of safeguarding, ensuring that young people are safe in the workplace and the training environment.”
DTL’s latest Industry Skills Forum on the subject brought together leading figures in HR in the utilities and construction sector, to discuss safeguarding and the government’s Prevent initiative, which requires education providers to play their part in ensuring young people aren’t recruited into extremism.
As an approved provider under the apprenticeship levy scheme, DTL says its customers expect it to deliver well-trained individuals, capable of carrying out their roles effectively and safely. This is particularly important when those roles are often in potentially hazardous environments in the gas, electricity, water and construction industries.
But as Mr Kerr sums up: “Our first duty is to the apprentices themselves, and we believe that ensuring their safety is paramount. By also ensuring they have those core literacy and numeracy skills, we add value to the opportunities created by their apprenticeship.”