«Improve»: Ambitious targets for new apprenticeships

Heslington / UK. (im) Revamped apprenticeships in food and drink manufacture are being rolled out across England and Wales, promising the 65 billion GBP industry a fresh injection of new talent – says «Improve».

Since November 01, separate apprenticeships for bakery, meat and poultry processing and food and drink manufacture are being replaced by a single, flexible framework offering the chance to specialise in any of the industry´s sub-sectors. The Food Manufacture Apprenticeship – Foundation Modern Apprenticeship in Wales – will qualify participants to the level of five good GCSEs, with an Advanced Apprenticeship – Modern Apprenticeship in Wales – offering training to the equivalent of A-Level, says the food and drink sector skills council.

Working in close consultation with employers, Heslington-based Improve has revised apprenticeships to make them more attractive, more cost-effective and better geared to the needs of the industry. It is forecast the new framework will result in new apprentice numbers rising from the 400 anticipated 2008 to more than two thousand in 2012 – a five-fold increase that will be vital to addressing key skills shortages and falling numbers of young recruits in the United Kingdom´s largest manufacturing sector.

Jack Matthews, chief executive of Improve, said: «Half of all workers in food and drink manufacture are not qualified to the equivalent of five good GCSEs, and a quarter lack basic skills in reading, writing and numeracy. If we are to move forward improving performance and profitability, we need a better skilled workforce. Apprenticeships were identified as an important way for the industry to address these problems more than ten years ago. Unfortunately, the apprenticeships developed at that time have not led to the widespread take-up hoped for. Since Improve took over responsibility, apprentice numbers have been on the rise, with successful completions doubling in the past two years. But there are still too many apprentices not completing their courses and far too few progressing to the higher level. We expect around 400 new apprentices in food and drink manufacture to start next year, which is a low number compared to some other, smaller industries. With an overall pass rate of just 61 percent, dipping to 45 percent at the higher level, it is clear changes are needed to make our apprentice system more attractive to both employers and employees».

Key changes to the framework include the introduction of a modular system of study and assessment allowing apprentices to work towards a technical diploma and a National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) in easy-to-manage, bite-size chunks. The emphasis of the apprenticeships is on work-based learning, giving a direct link between theory and practical skills needed to do a particular job. There is also a clear continuity in learning between the two levels of study, while the large number of learning units available allows each apprenticeship the flexibility to be adapted to meet the skills demands of any job in the industry.

«It is vital all apprentices have a broader theoretical understanding of a particular job on top of the actual skills required to do it», added Matthews. «But we know time spent out of work is a concern for employers, something which has contributed to low uptake at the higher level. By allowing apprentices to work towards their qualifications in smaller, easy-to-manage steps, we can strike a better balance between theory and practice while class time and workload are kept to a minimum. With more than 500 units covering all aspects of the industry to choose from, each apprenticeship can be geared towards a specific job, be it a specialist area like craft bakery, or something more generic like production line management. All apprentices will also be taught core skills relevant across the industry, for example food hygiene and business skills, as well as basic skills in numeracy, literacy and communication. This means they qualify capable of multi-tasking, switching roles and moving easily into other areas of work in the sector».

About: Improve is one of 25 sector skills councils established by the UK government to take the lead in driving up skills in the workplace in order to promote higher productivity and stronger competitiveness for UK businesses in the global market. Funded primarily by the government, sector skills councils are also supported by employers in their sectors, whose needs they represent when stimulating change among the providers of education and skills. Sector skills councils work closely with employers to promote greater commitment to improving skills in their workforces, and with schools, colleges, universities, and private training organisations to improve the provision of basic skills training and to make vocational and occupational training more relevant to the commercial climate.