Barrhead president Jacqueline Dobson believes properly funded courses offer valuable work experience for those looking to join the sector.
As a parent, I know all-too-well the stresses and pressures of exam results. Many pupils and parents will have experienced that burden last month as they patiently awaited that letter or text which feels like it has so much riding on it.
Of course, it is an important milestone. But the dominant headlines around exam result times almost always focus on the knock-on impact of university acceptance. This year, we’re seeing exam results lower than last year – in England, the proportion of A and A* grades awarded in A-levels has fallen from 35.9% to 26.5%, while in Scotland, the Higher exam pass rate fell from 78.9% to 77.1%.
The lower results have resulted in a drop in university offers for UK students this year, while the cap on university places for Scottish students is still being hotly debated in Scottish Parliament.
So, if places at universities across the country are squeezed and attainment levels are dropping, surely this would be the perfect opportunity for governments to be engaging with employers on how they can support routes into the world of work?
Unfortunately, the dwindling support for modern apprenticeships does not seem to mirror the need nor the demand for work-based qualifications and the onus to invest is on employers. The demand for apprenticeships is rising sharply and is a critical lever in the UK’s job creation and productivity levels.
Indeed, the promotional material produced by our governments would have us believe that apprenticeships are a core focus and funding is on the rise. As we know, this is not the case for the travel industry, which faces cuts to tourism funding and reductions in dedicated public body resource, something which influenced our decision at Barrhead Travel to invest in our in-house assessors.
Raise the profile
I think higher education is essential in advancing careers. But higher education comes in many forms and, particularly around this time of year of exam results, there is little attention on apprenticeships when referencing the upcoming academic years.
I do believe there is still a slight disconnect when it comes to what people understand an apprenticeship to be. Over the last decade, the dial has changed drastically on the perception of apprenticeships, which is positive. And more businesses and industries are embracing the value that young people bring, with 96% of employers citing that taking on apprentices positively benefits the business. But there is clearly still work to be done to raise the profile of the apprenticeship model.
Apprenticeships are not a commiseration prize but a viable alternative, offering work-placed experience alongside critical thinking and professional discipline. Another attraction is that apprentices can earn on the job without the pressure of student loans and debt accruing during years of study.
Make travel an example
There are cries up and down the country for the reinvigoration of the high street, particularly after retailers reported a record low in high street footfall in July. That’s not the case in retail travel, however, which has recovered at an incredibly fast pace with many eyeing expansion.
I strongly maintain that apprenticeships are one of the best ways into the workforce.
That’s not just from my own personal experience of the system but from the observations I make across our industry. Some of travel’s most impressive leaders are home-grown talent, while about half of our senior management team at Barrhead Travel joined as trainees or apprentices.
It seems to me that the government may wish to turn to the travel industry for an example on how apprenticeships can influence industry and economic productivity. Properly funded programmes could be the key to unlocking the regeneration of retail. This is a topic high on Barrhead Travel’s priority list and I’ll be making this very point during a scheduled dinner next month with Scotland’s First Minister.
To those students who are unsure where their paths might take them this year: I can assure you that an apprenticeship, particularly in travel, could take you places you haven’t even dreamed of.
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