Chris Cherry asks providers to be brave if they are going to create genuine employer-led apprenticeships that employers and young people will value.
The world of work and what employers are demanding of their people is changing so quickly. “Agile” “lean” “just-in-time” “virtual” are not just management buzz words, they are happening every day. The world is demanding nimble, talented, proactive, innovative, and (in a post-Covid-19 world) resilient young people. And that trend is going to quicken.
Apprenticeships have the potential to be crucial to developing future talent, but they have to be more employer-centred, not just employer-led and that is a fundamental challenge for providers.
Apprenticeship delivery has to respond, and apprenticeship providers have to be nimble. Apprenticeship programmes built from time-served components, delivered according to a relatively fixed and inflexible structure, with broadly generic outcomes are probably not going to cut it in the future.
So what’s a provider to do about this?
It’s going to take a long-term shift in the way you think about apprenticeships, and it’s going to need a fresh, brave approach. Young people in the online world want immediate responses and results, and the successful providers will get that. You could challenge it of course, but you could embrace it and change at the same pace as your learners.
…make employers powerful
It feels to me that a majority of apprenticeship providers are still delivering standards with a framework mindset and curriculum. When I work with providers on curriculum design and planning, I push them to give employers a more powerful voice. They are co-creators of this powerful programme and not passive recipients.
Just inviting them isn’t enough or giving up when the process starts to be time consuming isn’t enough. Someone else is paying the bill for training and they have a right to value. The answer is genuine curriculum co-creation.
It can be costly at first in terms of staff time but if you’re confident and if you experiment, then you really can work out a way to bring employers into the curriculum design conversation to their benefit and of course for their amazing apprentices. Another thing to bear in mind is that smaller employers who might only have a couple of apprentices might not have the time, but my argument is that their intensive involvement early on will be an investment that will pay back multiples in terms of their business performance.
…choose real end-point assessment projects
In the real-world failure can be of equal value to success. A failed business project does not equate to a failed end-point assessment. But I’ve found that many end-point assessment projects are conceived by trainers with zero risk and so are often not very “real”. There’s no reason for this other than fear of assessment failure, but genuine end-point assessment for occupational competence works best when linked directly to business objectives. Issues of intellectual property and confidentiality can now be readily overcome with imagination and bravery.
Turning standards into learning objectives that anticipate the business outcomes that employers are looking for, makes apprenticeship authentic and useful.
We’ve been working with one of the most innovative engineering companies in the world recently on their apprenticeship programme. Four out of five of their R&D projects never get to see the light of day as a real product because they fail at the concept stage but almost all of their apprentices pass their end-point assessment using an R&D project as their focus. Every minute of effort is productive and directly aligned with business need. I’m certain that you can see this in your own apprentices.
…focus on transferability
On the broader stage, it’s now acceptable to tell your employers that they’re training for their industry as well as for themselves. It’s not just about their recruitment it’s about the bigger picture of creating “drag and drop” skills and fluid individuals with the agility and resilience we all need.
In future we may not have the luxury to take ten years to perfect a learning programme. We won’t be able to sustain the levels of technological advances if the skills machine that sustains them is in a lower gear. And of course we’ve seen in the last twelve months how creative and innovative further education is when allowed to solve problems.
Putting it into practice
We run regular Curriculum Design Masterclass sessions where we’ll help you hone your skills at co-designing the curriculum with the employer. You can find more details here.
If you want to explore ways to co-create apprenticeships with employers in different industries or need more one-to-one curriculum design support, do drop us a line.