Apprenticeships still occupy a central part of the skills agenda, but will all this discussion bring about the high quality frameworks that are now urgently required? The main political drive seems to be to create large numbers of apprenticeships, but with little reference or debate about the quality and fitness for purpose of the programmes. These two elements are surely the most important and should not be subverted by political hype over the numbers taking them up.
Too often politicians get carried away quoting numbers, imagining the larger the number, more of the population will be conned into believing their commitment to an issue! It’s the old issue of quality verses quantity. Significantly, however, one aspect of the government’s namely the Trailblazer initiative, which was launched in March, looks promising and could create effective apprenticeship programmes. A number of key professional bodies have been very actively involved with the initiative including the Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering (CIPHE). Other Trailblazer programmes will be launched over the next few years and will represent other profession and trades.
Colleges and college lecturers want to play a key part in developing and delivering high quality apprenticeships, working closely with employers and the relevant professional organisations. The CIPHE has led the way with involvement in the Trailblazer initiative, which allows employers to be involved in designing the programmes and equally important, directly defining and developing the skills that their workers need now and in the future.
The success of the Trailblazer initiative highlights the importance of networking across a wide range of stake holder’s e.g. professional bodies, employers, awarding bodies, colleges and training providers and standard setting organisations. This is but one element of the programme that promises much for the future. The programme is set at Level 3 with an entry Level 2 in English and Mathematics and is delivered over 48 months, with an opportunity for the assessment/accreditation of prior experience and learning (APEL), for candidates with relevant previous experience. A comprehensive set of units both general and specialised provide all the necessary knowledge and skills for the practitioner including health and safety, dealing with customers in order to understand the complexity of the profession
The knowledge, skills and behavioural specification is comprehensive and provides a strong foundation for practitioners of the future. The specification fully recognises the importance of mathematical, scientific and equally important the practical and behavioural skills needed along with the wider core/soft skills.
Finally on graduation a clear progression career route is defined by the award of EngTech, accredited by the Engineering Council in association with CIPHE. This sets the scene for practitioners to progress to higher professional memberships e.g. Incorporated and Chartered Engineer following work experience and Continuous Professional Development (CPD). It is hoped the Plumbing Trailblazer programme will be formally launched in 2017.
I am relatively optimistic about the initiative and hope that colleges will be significantly involved in the delivery and further development. This development will benefit the students, employers and colleges and raise the profile of the professional status of plumbing and heating engineering. Hopefully other professional and trade associations will develop their apprenticeship programmes.