Apprentices have the ‘metaskills’ which give them the edge over graduates

Apprentices are better equipped with the speed and adaptability needed for the 21st century workplace, said Board Member of the Institute for Apprenticeships (IfA) and HR Director of Siemens, Toby Peyton-Jones yesterday. He was speaking at the annual lecture sponsored by education charity the Edge Foundation and held at the Royal Academy of Engineering in London.

Brexit isn’t so important, said Peyton-Jones, as the ‘megatrends’ impacting on the global economy – climate change, globalisation, automation – and which drive Siemens’ business strategy. 

‘Apprenticeships offer the chance to combine both learning and doing. The key thing about apprenticeships is that they offer the opportunity to develop ‘metaskills’ like project development and problem solving. We need engineers who can solve the problems we don’t have yet.’

Formerly in the Royal Engineers, Toby Peyton-Jones joined Siemens in 1989. The global engineering and technology giant is the largest industrial manufacturing company in Europe, turning over 7bn euros each year and employing around 15,000 in the UK.

Echoing opening remarks by former Education Secretary and Edge Chair, Lord Baker, that every attempt to improve technical education since the 1870s had failed, Peyton-Jones said successive Ministers’ ambitions to put their own stamp on the system had led to cyclical reform by government. 

Peyton-Jones was keen to emphasise that the difference this time is that the IfA, launched earlier this year, is truly employer led and listening to what businesses want. 

‘Data on outcomes show that apprentices do better in terms of pay than graduates,’ said Peyton-Jones. ‘This is because the higher education system is provider-led and the apprenticeships system is employer demand-led.’

He acknowledged that delivery of reforms was a challenge, particularly ensuring that apprenticeships remain open and attractive to smaller businesses, but says the mindset will change; companies should take on apprentices because they are good for the business, not just to get Levy funding back.

‘You won’t get your money back from the Levy, you’ll get your money back from the apprentice.’

The IFA is currently focused on improving the rigour and clarity of the trailblazer process, establishing the Quality Alliance, developing the Route panels and engaging with stakeholders. The next phase will focus on the integration of apprenticeships and wider technical education. As of the start of September, there were 519 apprenticeship standards in development, more than 180 have been approved for delivery.

The striking thing about Toby Peyton-Jones’s talk was his enthusiasm and belief that the reforms mark a paradigm shift in how we educate and train young people for the world of work. Also, his optimism. Whilst conceding that ‘we know we haven’t got it all right yet’, he cited an old Chinese proverb,

‘The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.’

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