Why you're never too old to be an apprentice

13 July 2017 -

LabelThe new Apprenticeship Levy allows employers to invest in training for senior managers. Only problem: the managers have to get over that “apprentice” label

Guest blogger Dr Emma Sparks

How do managers feel about becoming an ‘apprentice’? The Oxford English Dictionary still defines an apprentice as “a person learning a trade from a skilled employer for a fixed period at low wages”.

There’s a real tension here, because large employers can see that they need to take advantage of the Apprenticeship Levy and funded apprenticeships; and they know the way to maximise the benefits is not through junior staff but upskilling in the engine room of an organisation, the managers and high-potentials.

The terminology is a problem, however, because senior people don't necessarily want to be associated with the 'apprentice' label.

We've been working with some of the first managers on Master’s level apprenticeships (level 7) since 2016. The programme was set up among employers in the defence sector alongside Cranfield (the Systems Engineering Master’s Apprenticeship Programme, or SEMAP). There's  a second cohort coming onboard now, and around 70 apprentices from ten different employers.

One of these is Rob Campbell. He was mid-career, working as a training manager at the design, engineering and project management consultancy Atkins when he decided to re-train via SEMAP. I recently asked him how he felt about becoming an apprentice:

“I could see some individuals having an issue with being classed as an apprentice,” Rob told me. “From my own experiences, though, the term apprentice just means that you are on a journey to developing key engineering skills and experiences in a managed environment – we’re all learning and need to keep on learning.

“For me, SEMAP was an opportunity to gain the high-level engineering understanding I needed to develop the most effective training for the organisation as a whole – particularly in such an innovative area as systems engineering – and to improve my management skills.”

Amelia Jephson, a recent graduate recruit at Atkins, told me that she sees apprenticeships as another opportunity:

“I used to think it was an alternative qualification to A-levels and university degrees that would be experience-based rather than academic. I wanted to get chartered and to Master’s degree level as early into my career as possible – and this is how I can do it while still working.”

Changing the reputation of apprenticeships through new kinds of language – at Cranfield we've coined the term ‘Masterships’ for example – will be essential if employers are to get the most from the levy. For the future, we have to raise the status of work-based, employer-led qualifications in general.

“One way to encourage more engagement with apprenticeships among managers will be to raise awareness of the existence of the Master’s level opportunities – which are still rare,” says Amelia. “Also to demonstrate the value of this kind of apprenticeship directly by using participants in a wide variety of roles in the business.”

Rob agrees: “The work-based nature of apprenticeships means managers can enhance their levels of adaptability and flexibility to potentially work across multiple domains.”

Dr Emma Sparks at Cranfield University is course director for one of the first Master's level apprenticeship programmes

Here’s CMI guidance on how to develop the management skills of your existing and new talent with management apprenticeships

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