‘Apprenticeship’ and ‘part-time’

I went recently to a presentation by Lorna Unwin and Alison Fuller, from the LLAKES centre, of their very informative work on adult apprenticeships, in the lovely Bedford Square offices of the Nuffield Foundation (one of our most effective foundations).  In the pre-election period there was  a rather ludicrous bidding war between the parties on how many apprenticeships they could promise.   We’ve ended up with 3 million.

‘Apprenticeship’ has a good solid ring to it, which is why the parties jumped on it.  It implies work-relevance, application, skill and good employment prospects.  The problem is that it is now used very broadly, so broadly that it is losing that solidity and in some cases becoming simply a rebranding for any form of adult training.

Apprenticeships used to be just for the young.  Not any more. The LLAKES report shows how the number of adult apprenticeships has grown.  In 2012-13, 45% of new apprentices were aged over 25, with 32% 19-24 and just 22% 16-19.  Whatever an apprenticeship now is, it is no longer a young man following in a master journeyman’s footsteps.

Which takes us to the gender angle.  The majority of under 19 starts were men (55%).  But the further we go along the life course, the more female the picture becomes.  A large majority – 61% – of those starting an apprenticeship aged 25 or more were women.   The patterns confirms the latest ONS figures on training generally.  At 18-24 participation rates are more or less the same for men and women.  But for 25-34 year olds women are well ahead (16% to 13%).  The gap increases to 4 points for subsequent age groups, meaning there are about 4 women for every 3 men in training over the adult life course.

All that is in line with the PP’s point of departure, that women are accumulating an increasing share of the nation’s human capital.  But there’s a bit of a twist.  I asked at the meeting whether access to apprenticeships was open to part-timers.  David Hughes, the chief executive of NIACE, helpfully pointed me to SFA regulations which say:

“Apprentices must have spent a substantial percentage of their time as an apprentice actually doing the job they are developing a skill in, on premises where that job is usually carried out. This will normally be for at least 30 hours a week, but may be more.”

So one the one hand we’re supposed to think of apprenticeships as a form of learning which fits in with work at any age.  On the other hand it’s not supposed to apply to anyone working fewer than the completely arbitrary dividing line of 30 hours.  Make sense?

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