Apprentices "15% more employable" than everyone else. Why only 15?

You choose plumbing over philosophy; you expect to get a job.

For a while now we've been given to believe apprenticeships are the solution to all sorts of problems, like the current gap between the skilled employed and the unskilled unemployed. As I wrote a couple of months ago:

There seems to be a disconnect between educators and employers - the sectors crying out for workers (IT, engineering), match the university courses with the empty lecture halls.

How do you address this? Well, one idea is to pour money into apprentice schemes and funded places at technical colleges - which the government is, to some extent, doing. (For example, there's the Employer Ownership Pilot, a 250m funded training scheme for employers).

And last month George Osborne announced an extra £180m of funding to create 50,000 new apprenticeships. Are the schemes and the push working though? Well today the BBC has reported that qualified apprentices are 15 per cent "more employable" than people with other qualifications, according to a survey of 500 firms.

Here's the BBC:

Skills Minister Matthew Hancock said: "We want apprenticeships or university to become the new norm for young people leaving school and higher apprenticeships are an excellent way to enter high-profile careers while also achieving a degree-level qualification."

David Way, executive director, National Apprenticeship Service said: "We know that apprenticeships deliver real business benefits for employers."

15 per cent sounds great - but if you make the decision to study, say, plumbing, rather than philosophy, you are likely to be basing that decision on the idea that plumbing makes you quite considerably more employable. Maybe even completely employable. Yet in the survey apprentices scored 7.36 out of a possible 10 for "employability" as opposed to a 6.382 average of other qualifications (hence the 15 per cent difference) - still quite some way off the desirable 10.

Many problems with the government apprentice scheme have already been highlighted - inadequate training, false advertising, exploitation by employers. But it's worth noting that this survey is just an opinion poll (no commitment involved) - looking at whether employers think these kinds of schemes make people more likely to get jobs. It seems there's still some convincing to do.

Philosophy students can prove they are not a spanner. But this isn't always enough Photograph: Getty Images
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This week, a top tip to save on washing powder (just don’t stand too near the window)

I write this, at 3.04pm on a sticky Thursday afternoon, in the state in which Adam, before his shame, strolled in the Garden of Eden.

Well, in the end I didn’t have to go to Ikea (see last week’s column). I got out of it on the grounds that I was obviously on the verge of a tantrum, always distressing to witness in a man in his early-to-mid-fifties, and because I am going to Switzerland.

“Why Switzerland?” I hear you ask. For the usual reason: because someone is paying for me. I don’t think I’m going to be earning any money there, but at least I’ll be getting a flight to Zurich and a scenic train ride to Bellinzona, which I learn is virtually in Italy, and has three castles that, according to one website, are considered to be “amongst the finest examples of medieval fortification in Switzerland”.

I’m not sure what I’m meant to be doing there. It’s all about a literary festival generally devoted to literature in translation, and specifically this year to London-based writers. The organiser, who rejoices in the first name of Nausikaa, says that all I have to do is “attend a short meeting . . . and be part of the festival”. Does this mean I can go off on a stroll around an Alp and when someone asks me what I’m doing, I can say “Oh, I’m part of the festival”? Or do I have to stay within the fortifications, wearing a lanyard or something?

It’s all rather worrying, if I think about it too hard, but then I can plausibly claim to be from London and, moreover, it’ll give me a couple of days in which to shake off my creditors, who are making the city a bit hot for me at the moment.

And gosh, as I write, the city is hot. When I worked at British Telecom in the late Eighties, there was a rudimentary interoffice communication system on which people could relay one-line messages from their own computer terminal to another’s, or everyone else’s at once. (This was cutting-edge tech at the time.) The snag with this – or the opportunity, if you will – was that if you were not at your desk and someone mischievous, such as Gideon from Accounts (he didn’t work in Accounts; I’m protecting his true identity), walked past he would pause briefly to type in the message “I’m naked” on your machine and fire it off to everyone in the building.

For some reason, the news that either Geoff, the senior team leader, or Helen, the unloved HR manager, was working in the nude – even if we knew, deep down, that they weren’t, and that this was another one of Gideon’s jeux d’esprit – never failed to break the monotony.

It always amused us, though we were once treated to a terrifying mise en abîme moment when a message, again pertaining to personal nudity, came from Gideon’s very own terminal, and, for one awful moment, for it was a very warm day, about 200 white-collar employees of BT’s Ebury Bridge Road direct marketing division suddenly entertained the appalling possibility, and the vision it summoned, that Gideon had indeed removed every stitch of his clothing, and fired off his status quo update while genuinely in the nip. He was, after all, entirely capable of it. (We still meet up from time to time, we BT stalwarts, and Gideon is largely unchanged, except that he’s now a history lecturer.)

I digress in this fashion in order to build up to the declaration – whose veracity you can judge for yourselves – that as I write this, at 3.04pm on a sticky Thursday afternoon, I, too, am in the state in which Adam, before his shame, strolled in the Garden of Eden.

There are practical reasons for this. For one thing, it is punishingly hot, and I am beginning, even after a morning shower, to smell like a tin of oxtail soup (to borrow an unforgettable phrase first coined by Julie Burchill). I am also anxious not to transfer any of this odour to any of my clothes, for I will be needing them in Switzerland, and I am running low on washing powder, as well as money to buy more washing powder.

For another thing, I am fairly sure that I am alone in the Hovel. I am not certain. To be certain, I would have to call out my housemate’s name, and that would only be the beginning of our problems. “Yes, I’m here,” she would reply from her room. “Why?” “Um . . .” You see?

So here I lie on my bed, laptop in lap, every window as wide open as can be, and looking for all the world like a hog roast with glasses.

If I step too near the window I could get arrested. At least they don’t mind that kind of thing in Switzerland: they strip off at the drop of a hat. Oh no, wait, that’s Germany.

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times