The apprentice voice improves quality

It is apprentices who will pay the price for bad decision making – so involve us, says Poppy Wolfarth

The apprentice panel atthe Institute for Apprenticeships recently had an invitation to present to the IfA board withdrawn until October. On the face of it, this may seem like a small inconvenience but unfortunately, when you’re an apprentice, it’s just another instance of people making decisions that directly affect your education without deeming your opinion worthwhile.

I’ve thought about why this occurs time and time again – and only managed to come up with two possible reasons: fear and arrogance. Fear of losing the power that decision makers already have, fear of apprentices having an element of control, or even fear of irrelevance. Or maybe it’s arrogance: the arrogance of not needing the whole picture, the arrogance of thinking they know what’s best, or just the arrogance of reaching a level of authority where your word and decisions are rarely questioned or challenged.

It’s just another instance of people not deeming our opinions worthwhile

Three things make up an apprenticeship: a training provider, an employer and an apprentice. So why is it that our sector spends a lot of time listening to training providers and employers but spends little or no time talking to apprentices?

In other areas of education, the learner voice is taken seriously and is a fundamental part of quality. In the workplace, employee voice is taken seriously and trade unions play an important role. In business the customer is listened to and is meant to come first. So why not in apprenticeships?

Better decisions are made when more information and perspective is available. Apprentice voice is about having a legitimate seat at the table, not about taking over. We want to be listened to and we want to be taken seriously, not only to make sure that decisions are made after the fullest picture is drawn but also to safeguard our futures. At the end of the day, it is apprentices who will pay the price for bad decision making.

The argument for apprentice voice doesn’t just stop at the quality of decision-making. There are many benefits to apprentice voice that go further than the meetings we are or aren’t invited to.

How many times have we heard business leaders talk about our education system not producing people with the skills that business needs? Confidence, public speaking, rational thought, civic responsibility, knowledge of governance structures and interpersonal relationship-building are all examples of skills that apprentices can easily access through voice at all levels of decision-making. Without these, businesses are in danger of making decisions that put our futures at risk.

Apprentice voice improves the quality of apprenticeships

I can see why some people might look at this problem and wonder why apprentices are kicking up a fuss about something that looks like a relatively small problem. But that’s mainly because these people may never doubt their right to be around the table, never experience a fight to have their voices heard or have to argue their legitimacy in a sector that’s about them.

The validity of our voice is something we will always take seriously and will continue to speak out about. Apprentice voice improves the quality of apprenticeships. Apprentice voice means better informed decisions. Fear and arrogance are never sufficient reasons to maintain the status quo.

Poppy Wolfarth is part of the NSoA leadership team and is on the Institute of Apprenticeships apprentice panel

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