Why are we so blind to apprenticeships?

Why are we so blind to apprenticeships?

“My name is Steve, and I love apprenticeships.”

There are many reasons why including the opportunity to develop real world skills in demand from employers, some of which the future of the UK are arguably dependent on; become more resilient in an increasingly fast-paced and ambiguous world and; the chance to thrive in your chosen career the moment you step outside of the school gates, regardless of the exam results in your hand or the background from which you came. And I’m saying this as a university graduate. Whether or not you agree with the ongoing stigma attached to them I’m increasingly struggling to understand why so many people are still blind to the magic behind apprenticeships, however, after meeting and reading Margaret Heffernan’s fantastic book ‘Wilful Blindness’ I’m beginning to understand why. Here, in my latest blog post, I suggest some of the deep-rooted reasons she writes about, and ‘poke the bear’ when it comes to the ‘A-word’ to explain why I think so many people are choosing not to see…


1.     Connecting the dots takes time and effort

Despite the high number of graduates still seeking employment after graduation, or the rising cost of going to university (the average graduate debt is now four times what I left with), university is still the default pathway towards career success for many. There is a certain cache attached to it – bragging rights if you will. Our brains like familiarity after all, we like to feel that we ‘belong’. The truth is we’re actually just lazy – conforming saves us time. It’s our investment strategy that’s set to fail - reducing our exposure to difference, challenges to our values and narrows our life experiences. As a result, we ‘see’ less and less over time.


2.     Love has made us blind

They say ignorance is bliss, no more so than when it comes to love. After all, if we talk about something that makes it real. If we say nothing that might raise eyebrows, it will disappear. As a result, we’ve opted for the ‘cookie cutter’ approach when it comes to advising young people on where to go next, and more importantly how. The truth is we’re often too proud and want to be seen to be ‘doing it right’ especially when it comes to parenting. No one wants to be that parent being whispered about at the school gate. The parent who took the risk and allowed their child to do an (shudder) apprenticeship? Heaven forbid!


3.     The university filter

We have an amazingly limited view of the world today, and at times I’m as guilty as the rest for not looking beyond my smartphone. The impact of the filters we are placing on our lives is profound, as our ability to make informed judgements is lost. This makes it easier for us to actively seek confirmation of our own beliefs as we become wedded to our ideas of what success (university) looks like. Any challenges (apprenticeships) then become a threat where we are required to seek information to support and defend our opinions, and the advice that we give. And if we can’t do that then it’s easier to just stick our head in the sand and choose ‘not to know’ – after all, nothing changes unless it confirms we are blind right?


4.     The university carrot and the apprenticeship stick

It seems that the most educated are often the most blind. Perhaps there is more to lose, some kind of face value? We favour hierarchies, and to a degree obedience. There is a social contract that we’re worried about breaking. If we took the (bold) step towards ripping it up then we might not miss the consequences of the blindfolds we’re wearing and discover better solutions that help our young people to discover themselves and to make their own mistakes. We’re allowing university to act like a carrot of belonging and apprenticeships to become the stick of exclusion. 


5.     Shortcuts make life easier

There may be more action being taken against stigma in the world today – movements such as Black People Matter, Me Too and Come Out for LGBT are great examples – however, by failing to even acknowledge apprenticeships as a valid career choice, more and more of us are falling into the trap of becoming, what Heffernan describes as, bystanders. Passive communities who shy away from action, even when we might end up sitting uncomfortably with this. We choose to take moral shortcuts where the more we see, the less we respond. In turn teaching our children to do the same. To do nothing. Out of sight, out of mind. No action, no problem! And that’s where our biggest challenge lies. The more we distance ourselves from the problem, the more objective we are surely?

“Don’t be a bystander”

The simple message written on the first page of my copy of Heffernan’s book.

Whilst there is an element of humour written here, the underlying truth here is that perhaps it is time that we open our eyes. Open them really wide and start to embrace apprenticeships. We appreciate and champion difference in so many other ways after all. Exploring them and positioning them on a level playing field against university would be a starting point. If we don’t at least try (and this might sound overdramatic) then given the current economic climate, we perhaps ignore the obvious at our peril?

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Moments of communication

Moments of communication

Which career? No idea! (revisited)

Which career? No idea! (revisited)