Graduates vs apprentices

Held at London’s Bank Westminster on Thursday 26th April, the latest event in TARGETjobs’ Breakfast News series took as its topical theme ‘Graduates vs Apprentices’, reflecting the burgeoning interest in apprentices across all sectors of industry and commerce and the consequent implications for graduate recruitment.

Bryan Finn of Business Economics had the task of setting the economic context in the immediate wake of the UK’s return to double-dip recession although, as he noted, many economists think that the latest ONS data provides a misleading picture of the current situation, with growth – albeit very modest – still expected later in the year.  In broad consensus terms, GDP growth of around 0.5% is now being predicted for the UK this year, rising to around 1.7% next.  Unemployment remains high at around 8%, with graduate unemployment higher for recent leavers (at c. 19% for those up to two years out of university) than for those who left between two and four years ago (c.7%).  Overall, graduate recruitment remains slightly more robust than general employment markets.

Guest speaker Philip Taylor could be described as an apprentice in the fullest sense of the term.  He began his career as an apprentice toolmaker, subsequently appeared in the BBC TV series The Apprentice (gaining the soubriquet ‘Pants Man’ for obvious reasons), and is now marketing manager for the City of London Corporation’s apprenticeship programme.  Philip believes that an apprenticeship is the greatest foundation that anyone can have.  However the range of apprenticeships currently available is far removed from his own experience: today they cover virtually every function, and with the sharp rise in university tuition fees making a university education unaffordable or undesirable for many talented youngsters, businesses should be looking seriously at apprentices as a new source of talent.  It is, of course, perfectly possible for the two streams of graduate and apprentice talent to enter a business in harmony.

Never one to shy away from the big questions (such as ‘What is education for?’), Work’s head of research Marcus Body took a more radical (and admittedly unofficial) view of the whole graduates vs apprentices issue.  He suggested that, given the finite supply and difficulties of recruiting both graduates and experienced hires, apprentices were not only a good idea but possibly “the only answer”.  Noting that many graduates don’t stick around long enough to fulfil their potential with the organisation that originally recruited them, he also questioned whether businesses really needed degree-qualified inexperienced hires at all.

Marcus pointed out that there had been no fundamental changes in the UK’s education system since the time when most jobs were “repetitive, disciplined and formulaic”, whereas now the need was for people with the judgment, creativity and intellect to do things differently.  He queried whether employers themselves were perpetuating the need for degrees, and wondered whether they had the ‘bravery’ to offer something better (i.e. a route more likely to get people to the top).  In particular, he suggested, if employers were to get “a lot more robust” in terms of their own selection criteria and process, this could obviate the need for the degree requirement altogether.

‘Topping the bill’ was John Morewood, senior specialist in emerging talent at HSBC, who provided an insight into his organisation’s journey down the apprenticeship route (a first for the UK banking industry), including the design and development of the still expanding programme.  He stressed that the case for change was directly linked to HSBC’s business needs, and warned against introducing an apprenticeship scheme unless it was part of business strategy.  Apprenticeships, he said, were seen as a means of answering HSBC’s need for increasing levels of professionalism, customer service, productivity, motivation, retention and referrals.  And while HSBC will never dispense with its graduate recruitment programme, it’s quite conceivable that in the future every new joiner – including graduates – could go on to an apprenticeship programme.

Finally, GTI Media director Simon Rogers brought proceedings to a close with a reminder of the date for the next Breakfast News – Thursday 28th June.

Monday, 30 April 2012

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Marcus Body Date: Apr 30, 2012

In the highly unlikely event that anyone would like a slightly more verbose summary of what I said, and links to some of the sources, it can be found here: http://www.workcomms.com/graduates/whitepapers/Graduates_vs_Apprentices/

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