Apprenticeships should be priority
Dear Sir, — With national apprenticeship week underway, I wholeheartedly support the enthusiasm of our students towards apprenticeships as opposed to the degree approach, which inevitably represents the costly approach for the student and not the employer.
I started my apprenticeship in 1964 and the pathway, whether to student apprenticeships or craft apprenticeships, was well established. I was fortunate in that I was employed as a student apprentice and my first week’s salary was £2 17s 6d. Craft apprenticeships were paid slightly more, but the difference was that my firm paid the college/teaching fees and my expenses, to and from college. This ranged between one day per week with two or three evenings per week, usually two evenings per week.
And yes, our training, both in the factory and the college, was to a skilled and employable level with a recognised and respected qualification. I admit that some students fell by the wayside, not because they were not able but because the demands upon your time were constant.
The system flourished and enjoyed a worldwide reputation, including that of Britain and British products.
At Foden’s, we had student apprentices from all over the world, including family members of major companies. We had apprentice accommodation in Wheelock. The building, a wartime maternity unit (I was born there) became a hotel, the Grove Hotel and now RK Henshall’s offices.
Industry, in post war Britain, was very successful in the world markets, so much so that companies sometimes struggled to recruit enough staff to produce sufficient goods to meet the growing demand.
At this stage, according to figures recorded at that time, we had an 80% dependency on industry and a 20% dependency on the service industry, unlike at the moment, we have an 80% dependency on our service industry.
I agree that it did not take long, the early 1980s, before there were several causes for the “apprenticeship disaster”, whether it was the government or the trade unions, or just bad management, as has been suggested in the past. The net result was that craft apprenticeships, where employment was not possible, were terminated when the apprentice became 21.
Our export markets started to collapse, which created wonderful opportunities for Japan, Germany, France and other countries. Some businesses were taken over, but, unfortunately, they “ticked along” for a couple of years and then were asset stripped and finally subject to closure.
This is exactly what happened with Foden’s — a consequence that was related to the government through our MP at that time.
There were similar events in a considerable number of our industries, including defence, rail and shipbuilding. Some of this was partially due to the failure to produce goods on time, but, very significantly, there was very little in the way of financial support from the government — not like the financial services extensive financial support in 2008.
Then, probably to mask the unemployment figures, Tony Blair introduced the policy of a “university for all”. The net result was that existing technical colleges and colleges of advanced technology had to transform themselves into universities. In effect, the powers that be broke a system which was not broken.
As two asides: the NHS broke a working system involving SRN and SEN qualifications and training. The nurses were accommodated on hospital premises and gained their qualifications while undergoing day to day training. The police force has, for years, demonstrated the desire for graduates to progress rapidly in the ranks. Is this the basis of the disappearance of our policeman on the streets? Perhaps, PCSOs should become members of the police.
There is still the opportunity to join a police force under the initial police learning and development programme, but you will need to check your local force recruitment pages for information on vacancies.
To return to our universities and their graduates, they have to repay their fees and there is no escape, unless you disappear from the scene. My children are having to pay their fees whether they can afford it or not, but what about those students who escape, for whatever reason, probably by returning to their country or disappearing without trace in the UK?
I admit that we cannot live in the past and we should invest more into our industry, not the service industry. We should return to systems that were not broken, and we should place priority on apprenticeships and those who study for “useful degrees” should have their education for free — perhaps three-year courses becoming four-year courses to enable them to get “on the job training”. — Yours faithfully,