Apprenticeships for the future: Mick Jackson

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I was recently fortunate enough to be invited to Downing Street for a reception on apprenticeships. It was an event attended by the prime minister and a number of other ministers (what is the collective noun for government ministers?).

The event was hosted by the PM on behalf of the Apprenticeship Ambassadors Network and was built around the awarding of Honorary Apprenticeships to a number of well known people who had either been apprentices in their past or are currently involved in promoting apprenticeships within their organisations.

You won’t be surprised to see that none of the recipients were from logistics but you may be surprised to see that they included Alan Titchmarsh, Brian Turner and Sir Alex Ferguson, all of whom served apprenticeships in their past.

Traditionally apprenticeships are seen as time-served learning on the job for 16 to 18 year olds in sectors such as construction, engineering and automotive. The end result is someone well respected as having served their time and now seen to be an expert at their job.

Apprenticeships in the 21st century look quite different. They are available across a wider range of industries, from sports and fitness to marine industry and broadcast. They are open to people of all ages. However, the key is that they still come from a background of work-based learning and are aimed at raising the professionalism of the individual by developing relevant vocational skills to enable them to do their job to a high standard.

Logistics is typically one sector that you may not associate with apprenticeships but they are available and many organisations have seen the benefits of developing their workforce through these learning programmes.

Currently, around 5,000 people per annum undertake logistics-related apprenticeships including driving goods vehicles, storage and warehousing, and carry & deliver goods. This figure represents only two per cent of the total apprenticeships which is pitiful given that the sector employs eight per cent of the workforce.

Regular readers of this column will be aware that I personally attribute much of that shortfall to the attitude of logistics employers when compared with that of the employers in the construction and engineering sectors.

In those sectors, a tradition of bringing people on in their craft means that apprenticeships are very common and full use is made of publicly funded qualifications such as NVQs. In logistics on the other hand, we tend to train people in order to be competent in individual tasks (maybe to use a particular warehouse management system) rather than developing their skills more generally.

This natural tendency away from apprentices has not been helped over past years where the Learning & Skills Council has stuck dogmatically to a 16-19 focus for apprenticeship funding. In a sector which does not allow people to drive under the age of 21 (except under the Young Driver Scheme) and where health and safety considerations often preclude young people in warehouses, that situation was never likely to change much.

Over recent years however, the 16-19 limit has been lifted and apprenticeships become a useful tool to underpin the rounded development of staff, perhaps as the basis for a warehouse to wheels programme. They are also a useful bridge to prepare people for junior management positions.

However, our sector also needs some genuine 16-18 logistics apprenticeships to prepare people for a career anywhere in the industry. Again, historically these have been difficult to get off the ground because they have to be linked to a qualification from the start. Under the new Qualifications and Credit Framework we are able to develop logistics qualifications in a more modular way, which will allow people to take a more general logistics programme rather than having to commit at the start to being a driver or a warehouse operative.

At Skills for Logistics we are very excited about the potential of this and we are talking to a number of organisations about taking this forward.

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