The Potential of Apprenticeships for Lifelong Skills Development

Special Feature Article
7 February 2024

It’s great to see the news of apprenticeship starts numbers beginning to rise in the news recently, and hugely positive to see the outpouring of support during this National Apprenticeship Week highlighting the impact that these programmes have had on individuals from all walks of life, and for the organisations they work for. In fact, when I was asked to write this piece, part of the brief was to do exactly that, to celebrate the success of our learners, across the broad range of subjects that we offer – but, you can read all about that here: Apprenticeships | Central YMCA

Reading through stories of learner success and provider case studies over the last couple of days I find myself in awe. Irrespective of the programmes themselves, or the standards being delivered against, there is so much more to an apprenticeship than ‘earning whilst learning’…

There is something unique to apprenticeships that teaches individuals how to question themselves, how to fail, and how to adapt to a different setting than they have previously experienced, in a way that isn’t developed in a purely educational setting – both in terms of mainstream education or full-time short-courses where time is taken away from work to complete. It’s an obvious point, but equally often overlooked, the immersive design of apprenticeship programmes teach a learner how to juggle multiple priorities, to split their focus, and to manage several stakeholder groups concurrently. Skills that can otherwise take much longer for an individual in a purely work setting to master.

By default, apprentices have to broaden their awareness and become adept at perceptual positioning and are encouraged to develop their curiosity. In a nutshell, they learn how they learn, and at same time gain an understanding of how others learn – again, invaluable skills that serve long after an individuals’ time on programme. In many cases this is also true for those individuals who were not able to complete their programme for whatever reason.

In this regard, apprenticeships, no matter what academic level someone joins at, are foundational. They create a new beginning for the learner.

In almost every instance that I have seen apprenticeship programmes are formative by design… and they are transformative in nature. Perhaps more so now than ever, given the changes to delivery models that we have seen over the last few years.

Another thing that strikes me this week is that we all too often focus on the enrichment of the apprentice themselves, and whilst this should not be in question (at all, ever!), it often goes unsaid that the impact of apprenticeship delivery is much further reaching – especially in terms of line manager’s development, more often than not in regards peer development as social learning and in some cases manager’s managers and organisational development as well.

These are all ‘peripheral’ and very real benefits of an apprenticeship that occur naturally outside and beyond the parameters of the programme itself, and each, in their own right create a viable business case to justify the costs and guarantee a return on investment.

Add to this the well-documented and ever-expanding literature that makes the case for training more generally – staff retention, emotional wellbeing, organisational efficiencies, diversity of thought etc and so on – all of which suggest that training will not just keep getting the job done but that it will get it done faster and better. It simply belies comprehension that the pervading myth of the 20% off-the-job-training requirement being cost-prohibitive is just so… pervasive!

In short, apprenticeships create skills for life, for life.


This piece was written by Andrew Erwich, Director of Business Development and Marketing at Central YMCA.