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Think Apprenticeships aren't as valuable as other qualifications? Think again.

Julie McLean, MBE from City College Plymouth sets the record straight...


Over many years working at the college, I have seen so many young people's lives turned around by apprenticeships.  They are such an important and much undervalued route to a successful career.

As the principal provider of apprenticeships in the region, City College welcomes rigorous inspection of the quality and level of training being accredited as apprenticeships.  This is only right in order that young people can be assured and the qualifications they achieve have merit.  Our own apprenticeship provision was rated 'outstanding' in our last Ofsted inspection and we work closely with employers in the city to ensure that our training is robust and supports the needs of local industries.

Our team of reviewing officers work in tandem with our apprentices and their employers to ensure that the quality of training and work they carry out towards their qualification is kept to the high standards set by our vocational training.  Through careful monitoring, City College Apprenticeships are kept to the latest industry standards and provide young people with economically relevant qualifications.

With recent claims that some apprenticeships are not providing this high level of training, however, I am concerned that all apprenticeships will be tarred with the same brush - with no distinction made between the different levels available, the skills taught or the reputation of the training provider being taken into account.

Those in business know the value of apprenticeships and we must ensure that young people do too.  For them to really be able to take advantage of all the opportunities that an apprenticeship can offer, we must address the serious misconceptions about apprenticeships which still exist in our culture and inform the choices that they make.

This is something the college is trying to rectify.  We recently worked with other training providers in the city to give apprentices the recognition they deserve with Plymouth's first city-wide Apprenticeship Graduation Ceremony.  This graduation ceremony was designed to demonstrate the value of apprenticeships and give apprentices the chance to celebrate their achievements in the same way university graduates do.  I firmly believe that we must address the disparity of value our society gives to academic and vocational qualifications.

A recent report from the Sutton Trust has shown that those who choose a higher level apprenticeship will earn £50,000 more than many university graduates over the course of their lifetime.  Apprenticeships can offer the same level of financial security as an undergraduate degree - something that we at the college have long known.  A positive step in recognising the value of apprenticeships was the recent 20% increase in apprentices' minimum wage, meaning that our apprentices can earn a starting salary of £14,000 a year whilst getting their qualifications.

Apprenticeships are a crucial part of our industries here in Plymouth and the wider region.  Previous reports from the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills show that the South West is one of the best places in the country for apprenticeships and that the region is second only to London in terms of providing opportunities for people who want to earn while they learn with an apprenticeship.

Success rates for apprenticeships in the region are still the highest in the country, with City College Plymouth's success rate 15% above the national average.  With an excellent reputation for supporting apprenticeships, the college works closely with a range of employers, large and small, to ensure that apprentices are a vital part of the region's future workforce and that their training meets or exceeds the industry standard.

I know how highly skilled our apprentices are in the South West.  City College apprentices regularly compete in regional and national skills competitions, achieving top placing in regional heats for last year's SkillBuild, Worldskills and Dulux Student Decorator of the Year competitions.

Those with an apprenticeship qualification from a trusted training provider can be justifyably proud of their successes.  They can join former City College apprentices who are now Managing Directors of global companies, such as Chris Gates at Princess Yachts International and Steve Cardew at Kawasaki, in celebrating their achievements.

I believe strongly in apprenticeships and the opportunities they offer to both young people and employers.  To dismiss and devalue apprenticeships as a whole is to descredit the skills, knowledge and hard work of thousands of young people across the country and those who train them.  Yes, we must ensure high standards of quality, but we must also ensure that due respect is given to our apprentices and the work that they do.

I believe in apprenticeships and hope you will join me helping our young people to do so too.

Julie McLean is Director of Work-based Learning and Schools Partnerships at City College Plymouth, where she has worked for nearly 30 hears helping over 27,000 young people to start their future careers through training and skills programmes like apprenticeships.
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