Older people value apprenticeships but training quality must improve says new report

By Nuffield Foundation

The first piece of major research on adult apprentices in this country, carried out by the UCL Institute of Education (IOE) and funded by the Nuffield Foundation, has found that 45% of all apprentices are 25 and over, with 3,000 taken by the over 60s in 2012/13.

The study, Does apprenticeship work for adults? looks at the key factors that motivate employers to provide adult apprenticeships as part of their workforce planning and the views and experiences of adults on training schemes.

Researchers carried out case studies and face-to-face interviews in the five main sectors employing and training apprentices: social care; health care; hospitality; transport and energy. They found that while under-19 apprentices are predominately male, women comprise 61% of adult apprentices aged 25 and over.

In many instances ‘adult apprentices’ were existing members of staff with employers with a ‘grow your own skills’ policy who wanted to retain their experience.

Employers saw apprenticeships as a good vehicle for staff retention and used them to develop a workforce capable of adapting to their business challenges. One manager said apprenticeships: “pushes them further…the apprenticeship takes them to that next level, so you’re not just getting a good employee, you’re getting a great employee and that’s what makes the difference”.

The report highlighted the demand from the 25s and over for apprenticeships and the study showed that both employers and employees benefit. However, it was clear that there was a lack of consistency in the quality and the substance of the apprenticeships on offer. Some of the apprentices in the study were merely accredited for the skills and knowledge they had already while others were building new levels of occupational expertise and a grounding for career progression.

Professor Alison Fuller said: “Currently, the term ‘apprenticeship’ is being misused. Accrediting adults for existing skills is worthwhile. However, this should not be classed as an apprenticeship. The study shows that adults value qualifications that give them access to new learning experiences.

“Employers and training providers need to work together to develop appropriate publicly funded courses for an ageing workforce. In this way we will fully capitalise on the long-term value of workforce development and retraining.”

Adult apprentices had often been employed (and in some cases for many years) before being given the opportunity to take an up an apprenticeship. Many welcomed the chance to gain formal qualifications to improve their confidence and career opportunities. Those who undertook apprenticeships with a structured learning core and off-site training combined with a workplace supervisor were the most enthusiastic about the quality and extent of their learning. One apprentice said: “Well I like to think that it gives you something to show for what you’ve done, it gives you credit, so you know after four years I’m getting recognition for everything I’ve learnt, and these are the things I can do and this is the paper to prove it.”

All government-supported apprenticeships include a mandatory requirement to achieve credits in English and mathematics. Many adult apprentices were negative about this aspect as they had poor school results in these subjects. However, once they started their apprenticeships they found that their new work-related skills increased their job capabilities and confidence. Adult apprentices saw the opportunity to develop computer skills as extremely valuable and this had a positive effect on how they saw themselves as learners.

The Office for National Statistics predicts that by 2020 people over the age of 50 will comprise 32% of the workforce. Employers want to offer apprenticeships to their older employees as well as new recruits. The UK and Australia are unique in allocating government funding to support apprenticeships for adults in employment. However, the types of apprenticeships currently on offer are of a variable quality. Does apprenticeship work for adults? shows that it is vital that adult apprenticeships include substantial training leading to career progression.

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