Thursday 13 August 2015

The Role of Apprenticeships

Apprenticeship is a powerful way of training someone into a particular career, job or skill set. It is especially useful in a developing economy where access to formal education may be limited and unemployment at a relatively high level. It represents an excellent way of bridging the gap between secondary education and tertiary education, playing the role of feeding skilled people into the workforce. Apprenticeship has the dual effect of filling a skills gap for an industry and training a person to have the necessary skills to forge a successful career.

Apprenticeship is the term commonly applied to blue collar trades and occupations, as distinct from the term learnership, which applies more to white collar vocations. 

A three-way partnership

Apprenticeships work best for the economy when there is a partnership between business, tertiary education organisations like technical colleges, and government. This partnership encourages education, economic development and workforce development. Implemented properly it financially benefits not only the individual but also the employer and the country.

The ideal combination is to supplement on the job training with some form of classroom instruction. This gives the apprentice the best of both worlds – theoretical instruction and practical application in a real-world environment. 

Apprenticeships are a cost-effective way for employers to train employees. Businesses are investing in training the next generation of the workforce, typically at a lower cost than putting an employee through a tertiary education qualification, and they also get the benefit of having an active employee while the training is occurring. The cost to the employer is less, because they typically pay the apprentice a lower wage than the average worker. This amount increases as the apprentice advances in the apprenticeship. As the apprentices earn more they also pay more tax, bringing a further benefit to the economy.

It also costs the government less to run apprenticeships than traditional education programmes because the employer assists in covering the cost of the education. This is a good example of a win-win partnership between government and private enterprise.

Community and individual benefits

Apprentices earn money while they learn on the job. This allows them to make a contribution to the economy while they are still learning and growing in their occupations. They spend their money in the local communities and thus help to stimulate the local economy. This is completely the reverse situation from the tertiary education scenario where students do not contribute as much to the economy due to lack of funds; instead they typically borrow from the economy in one form or another – for example, by taking out student loans.

Apprenticeships also help to grow the local and surrounding economies through entrepreneurship and job creation. Someone who completes an apprenticeship as a plumber may go on to start a plumbing company and employ others.
Apprentices may also receive other benefits from their employers, such as medical aid assistance, which further relieves the pressure on the public health system.

It is generally the case that once the apprenticeship programme has been completed, those who have participated as apprentices have higher annual earnings than those who have not been apprentices. They get an education that is supplemented by on the job training and end up with a sustainable career path.

There is also a psychological benefit in that they feel more productive and more part of meaningful economic activity while they are training.

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