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Apprenticeships deserve more attention


Last year I attended my daughter’s high school graduation ceremony, where more than 50 scholarships were awarded to students to further their education at local universities. Three of these scholarships exceeded $30,000 and one was for $50,000, an impressive sum and fantastic support to the young male recipient who will never understand the pains of applying for, and paying off, a student loan or the financial stress that the majority of university students in New Zealand experience.

As each scholarship was awarded, I waited patiently and with great anticipation for those that would be handed to students pursuing apprenticeships or work in other vocational professions. There were none. Out of all the charities, foundations, businesses, philanthropists and fraternal organisations offering scholarships, not one awarded a study or tools grant to a student moving into an apprenticeship.

What does this say about the way we view apprenticeships? Not every student wants to attend university. Furthermore to assume that anyone who excels in a particular subject at high school and receives an award couldn’t be interested in an apprenticeship only serves to maintain the stigma around such training options.

Why don’t more parents encourage apprenticeships? Why don’t more schools talk about the career opportunities an apprenticeship can offer?

Many parents lack knowledge
of apprenticeships.

Research shows that many parents, who are a key influencer when students make their future educational decisions, lack knowledge of apprenticeships. According to the Barclays Apprenticeships study of 1,000 university students and their parents, only eight per cent of parents were confident in their knowledge of apprenticeships.

Is the NZ educational system working for or against students getting into apprenticeships? Attending the graduation event, each teacher walked onto the stage dressed in graduation gowns and caps. An intimidating sight indeed if as a student you didn’t want to continue on to tertiary education. Every scholarship sent a message to students from those with the greatest influence that economic prosperity is gained only by achieving a degree, any degree.

This creates a stigma around apprenticeships and holds young people back from considering this form of training. Worse still, it can lead to regret for those who really want to pursue a trade but feel that they will disappoint parents or teachers if they do not live up to their ‘potential’.

Ironically, gaining technical knowledge and experience in an area of candidate demand is important for a secure long-term career – and this can be achieved through an apprenticeship just as it can through a degree or post-graduate qualification.

With apprenticeships also available in a broad range of industries and job functions, an apprenticeship should be considered equally with other training options when people look at their further education and future career options.

There will always be a
need for tradespeople

We are in a changing world. Disruptive technologies and services, virtual technology, artificial intelligence, 3D printing and self- drive vehicles may well be common place within the next 20 years. A number of roles that professionals do today will be replaced. Yet with growing populations, increased longevity and global disasters both natural and manmade, there will always be a need for tradespeople to design, build and maintain infrastructure, transport, housing, educational and health facilities.

Given New Zealand’s youth unemployment challenge (22% of 15 to 19 year olds are unemployed as are 11% of 20 to 24 year olds) we should encourage more parents, teachers, students, employers and jobseekers to recognise the benefits of an apprenticeship.

Yet secondary schools can only provide scholarships in line with what is provided from the community and local businesses. Therefore I encourage ITO’s, building associations, and large construction businesses to help fund scholarships to support students who wish to pursue an apprenticeship. It’s a sensible attraction strategy to engage with talent for entry level positions. After all, we need to equip people with the skills employers require so they can not only enter but succeed in the world of work.