What exactly are the new, reformed Trailblazer apprenticeships? Nobody seems to be sure – but maybe we aren’t looking at them in the right way. If we do, we could have a world class apprenticeship regime.

The Government has set itself a target of 3m apprenticeships in this parliament, embarking on a major programme of change and, at the end of last year, publishing “Guidance for Trailblazers — from standards to starts” giving the first ideas of how this might work and what might be meant by “qualified” and “qualifications”.

So let’s start with the purpose of an apprenticeship. It’s a period of learning and skill development towards a defined job role. At the end of it the person who has successfully completed their apprenticeship will be “qualified” to be say a doctor or a chef.

Qualifications are part of the apprenticeship — they are not the apprenticeship; having a qualification doesn’t mean you’re qualified (or job competent)

The person is thus qualified to competently carry out the full range of requirements for the specific job. But isn’t that a qualification? I would argue no.

It is confirming a status in the workforce rather than a “qualification” which in many people’s minds is more about “knowledge” than skills development and competencies.

Successful apprentices who have “passed-out” must be able to perform the job day in day out and they can only do this as they develop their skills and competencies — until they reach the point at which they can operate safely and with confidence on their own.

So where do qualifications fit in?

Well, they are part of what an apprentice must achieve to become qualified to do a certain job. The exact requirements for “qualification achievement” for each job will vary very considerably, from passing a training knowledge qualification course that might involve 10 weeks study up to a degree or master degree.

Against this wide range of requirements there are some potentially common parts to an apprenticeship where qualifications are included: entry qualifications — employers may require the would-be apprentice to have achieved a certain set of formal, knowledge-based standards for example five GCSEs or three A-levels in certain topics.

Core common skills qualifications — this would be English and maths, at a minimum of level one (for example Functional Skills) for a level two apprenticeship and at a minimum of level two for a level three apprenticeship. For certain apprenticeships it will also be a requirement to achieve a defined qualification in the use of new technology/IT.

Licence to practice qualifications — in certain sectors or for groups of jobs it will be necessary to achieve a “licence to practice qualification” to work for example in construction site safety, first aid and food safety.

“Major” knowledge qualifications — certain jobs may require the apprentice to achieve a significant “knowledge” qualification such as a degree, masters, HNC or defined professional and technical regulated qualification during the period of the apprenticeship.

“Small” knowledge qualifications — certain jobs may require the apprentice to achieve a qualification in a certain topic, for example the use of CAD as a technician, laboratory analyst or working at heights.

So qualifications are part of the apprenticeship — they are not the apprenticeship; having a qualification doesn’t mean you’re qualified (or job competent).

For some this may seem radical, but this is because we are used to a regime of regulated qualifications and funding driven by achieving qualifications. In Europe and even previously in the UK the approach I have outlined is very common and is seen as the way of doing things.

It’s different from our recent past, but it could give us an apprenticeship regime which is not only world class, but also provides the bed rock for a productive and successful economy in the future.