Apprenticeships can be about more than training the next generation, according to a panel of private sector experts. They can also form the foundation of long-term business success and help instill a culture of lifelong learning.
There is no such thing as a safe job anymore. Changes in technology and even the nature of work itself mean that learning no longer ends where the career begins. Lifelong learning will be vital to professional success and when it comes to young people, we can begin this habit early.
Apprenticeships remain a vital part of training for a trade or profession today. Indeed, according to Nazrene Mannie, executive director of the Global Apprenticeship Network, a culture of apprenticeships is important to establishing long-term business success.
Ms. Mannie was speaking at a World Bank webinar on Designing Apprenticeship and Work-Based Learning Opportunities for Youth, alongside Bettina Schaller, of the Adecco Group, Paul Champion, from TranZed Apprenticeships, Timothy Scott Hall, of Intel Costa Rica, and Al Crook, of Zurich North America. All agreed that investment in skills and training cannot be underestimated.
The need for skills investment
Nine out of 10 employers say that their business is dealing with a skills shortage that affects productivity, employee satisfaction, and staff turnover. Work-based learning (WBL) is an immediate answer because, instead of relying on potential employees to gain the necessary skills elsewhere, companies can train their own employees with the skills they need.
One challenge that panelists identified is to adequately equip SMEs to train their staff. Ensuring that trainers are sufficiently conversant with emerging trends, particularly around issues such as digitization, requires attention and investment.
At the root of all WBL are apprenticeships, which improve the overall performance and competitive advantage of companies at a reduced cost. They also boost employee loyalty, diversify the workforce, and help to develop increased leadership potential. All attendees agreed that apprentices are highly productive and bring a very quick cost benefit.
Added value and the appeal of apprenticeships
In the US, where the seminar took place, high student debts are an ongoing problem. Apprenticeships demonstrate an alternative path into a career, instead of university or college, and deliver a faster route to high-paying jobs, without incurring large debts. However, for them to be a widespread success, they need to be part of an established culture.
A good example is the Swiss system, which panelists praised. There, flexibility is emphasized, so that students can switch career paths if they realise later that their future lies in a different career, and work experience is fully integrated into the school system, building strong links between academic and vocational training.
Those links were especially useful when Intel Costa Rica switched a site from being one that assembled microcircuits to a center for research and development. The company relied heavily on student workers – students pursuing a college degree who were willing to work part-time to gain quality work experience. Intel worked with the universities to create eligibility criteria based on attendance and average grades, so that students were not tempted to drop-out before they finished their studies.
Addressing the skills gap
Intel’s use of student workers to help change a culture is not all that unusual, panelists suggested. Similarly, an apprenticeship scheme can be used to embed training values for the whole organization, putting in place the skills needed to address the current shortage.
There are four key skill types that are necessary in the evolving workspace, panelists said. First, general life skills, such as self-discipline. Second, ‘soft skills’, including interpersonal skills and empathy. Third, literacy skills include what we typically think of as literacy – reading and writing proficiency – but also numerical and digital literacy. Finally, though not quite a skill, it’s necessary to be inclined towards the sector you want to work in. This inclination, together with the transferable skills mentioned previously, can go a long way to establishing someone’s success.
Apprenticeships are not only a good way to learn those transferable skills, but also, by focusing organisational attention on developing those skills, they can play an important role in shaping the educational culture of the whole business.