We have made great progress on apprenticeships over the last three years, but the truth is that Germany still puts us to shame.
The German Dual System and their more deeply established apprenticeship programmes reflect extremely poorly on the UK position. We have a journey to make and we are still a long way from reaching our destination.
But saying that, we should remember how far from the German standard we started. For decades, work-based learning has been neglected in the UK. And now we are frantically trying to catch up.
Fundamentally, we have to change the perception of vocational education. It must be a genuine alternative to the academic route.
The German system is embedded in the culture and conscience of the country, having developed over many years. There is an acceptance that the significant investment the employer, as well as the state, make in the young person, will have a benefit to the national economy as well as the fortunes of the company.
We have to understand that this approach is yet to fully mature in the UK and will take some time to do so.
The chronic underinvestment in formal training throughout the last three decades is reflected in the high numbers of over-25s involved in apprenticeships. Many mature people simply do not have a recognised and transferable skill.
As we work hard to improve our national productivity, adult apprenticeships offer an excellent route for developing workplace centric skills – not at the expense of supporting young people, but in addition to. The recent Sutton Trust report is right to identify this trend, but wrong to imply we should pull the plug from some work-based learning in favour of others.
Progression through to Level 3 and beyond of course needs to be encouraged and fostered, but this ambition should not invalidate the very meaningful and valuable skills that are developed through intermediate apprenticeships.
With over 800,000 people taking-up apprenticeship training we are heading in the right direction. The system needs to evolve, the reforms that the government are putting in place need to bed in.
Rationalising the number of apprenticeship programmes and giving the employer greater influence over the design and delivery of apprenticeship programmes are seeing the UK develop its own brand that’s right for the country, our culture and ambition.
But we must not kid ourselves. Germany is streets ahead.