As structure of industries shift and change we see an increasing number of people who become disenfranchised. Even those who manage to gain steady, full time employment are on edge, wondering if they will remain employable.
Employability, we are discovering, is not just a matter of finding employment or gaining a set of technical skills. Employability has much more to do with your ability to gain skills that make you adaptable to the needs of potential employers and customers. As they say, "The market is the market, and the market is always right."
Education, be it a degree or through an apprenticeship, is being ever more considered for the way it develops the individual within and outside the work setting. A useful definition of employability is therefore:
"A set of skills, knowledge and personal attributes that make an individual more likely to secure and be successful in their chosen occupation(s) to the benefit of themselves, the workforce, the community and the economy." (York, M., The Higher Education Academy, 2006)
Employability is about the continuing need to be flexible, to understand your capabilities, and the ability to sell yourself to employers. The question of whether apprenticeships make you more employable fragments into several more revealing questions; do they provide you with flexibility? Do they help you to better understand what you are capable of, and ultimately do they provide you with the necessary competencies, skills and motivational factors that employers want?
Perhaps another way to address this question is to consider the extent to which an apprenticeship prepares you for a job or a career. Very crudely, a job is something you do primarily to earn money with little priority on advancement in the work place. In contrast a career can be viewed as a series of connected work opportunities, where you build up competencies, skills and a record of experiences that demonstrate motivational factors aimed at increasing levels of success. After completing your apprenticeship will you be better prepared to pursue a career or simply deliver on a job that you have been trained to do?
Here are the principle reasons repeated regarding the benefits of doing an apprenticeship:
- Earn while you learn
- Be trained in the skills employers want
- Qualification progression opportunities
- Increase future earning potential
To what extent are these headlines conducive to you building a career? Let us take a closer look. What do you actually earn while learning? What specific skills are you acquiring? Are they what employers want when they consider advancement through the organisation? What is the earning potential compared to other employed groups? Clearly ‘the devil is in the detail’.
Progression by Highest Qualification (2003 – 13) (Office for National Statistics(Graduates Pay in the UK Labour Market 2013)
Let us consider the association between employability and industry sector, specifically which sectors fair most kindly to apprenticeships. Data presented by the Government body, Labour Market Analysis, covering April to June 2016 demonstrate a leaning of apprenticeships toward construction, manufacture, distribution, Hotel and restaurants. This is in stark contrast to graduates. It can be inferred therefore that those completing an apprenticeship should be far more employable within these industries.
Deciding how best to increase your employability is by no means simple. The route followed by one individual might not be as productive for another. Completing an apprenticeship is by no means a panacea for increasing employability. In many cases, a healthy mix of experience and study is the best way forward. Whichever path you choose, it is important to remember that employability is about more than finding a job.
Dr Ambroz Neil