In this article: Apprenticeships are a driver in the industry, but modern apprentices sometimes approach learning differently; here are the seven key trends

Sundry employees are investing in their future by enrolling in new employer-funded apprenticeship schemes that lead to qualifications and, often, a pay rise and promotion. Or catalyse a career switch.

But with apprenticeship starts slumping across the motor industry, what are the learning habits, behaviours and requirements that apprentices in the workplace favour?

1. Distance learning
Modern apprentices have to spend at least 20% of their time training off-the-job. Many will study for qualifications in the evenings and at weekends too. Thus, apprentices want more flexibility in how, when and where they learn.

Distance (or online) learning provides this, with students swotting from their laptop or smartphone whenever it is convenient. But they need to be disciplined and self-motivated to stay on track. Training may also be required so that apprentices understand how to make the most out of online learning environments.

2. Bite-sized learning
Modern apprentices want a greater variety of distance learning delivery methods. Learning in bite-sized chunks is increasingly preferred to lengthy online lectures, according to Kevin Coupland, Head of the Apprenticeship School at BPP University in London. Apprentices want mobile applications, podcasts and other downloadable content that can be consumed on-the-go, he says.

The challenge for apprentices is understanding their unique learning style and picking those technologies that are the best fit. Podcasts may be great for aural learners who generally prefer using sound and music, but spatial learners tend to prefer images and videos over sounds or words when learning.

3. Workplace capability
There’s a shift away from academic to professional development of apprentices. They want to develop their “workplace capability”, or the skills, knowledge and behaviours needed to improve their job performance. “Passing an exam doesn’t mean you’re necessarily better at your job,” says Coupland.

Improving workplace capability requires more self-reflection, he says. Apprentices want more thorough assessments at the start of a scheme, discovering their strengths and weaknesses and putting a tailored development plan in place.

4. Tailored training
Apprentices want training that is far more customised, so they can set stretching, individual targets so they can be challenged to reach their true potential. “Some students need to be pushed further than the confines of the Apprenticeship Standards that dictate the knowledge, skills and behaviours an apprentice should gain,” says Coupland.

5. Engagement
Closer collaboration between employers, training providers and apprentices is needed. Apprentices are assigned a workplace coach to support their development – and they want more regular and detailed meetings.

That’s according to Mark Dawe, Chief Executive at the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, who says: “The real value of an apprenticeship is applying the theory on the job. A strong relationship between apprentices and coaches is critical to doing that. Any good programme will provide that engagement.”

6. Soft skills
Dawe says that “soft skills”, such as communication, teamwork or problem-solving ability are among apprentices’ most desired skills, as employers crave them too. “As an apprentice, you will hope to learn how to change a tyre or spark plug,” he says. “But how you communicate with colleagues, how you work with customers is just as important as the technical skills. Apprenticeships must deliver the soft stuff.”

7. Clear communication
Dawe says employees want employers and training providers to communicate clearly what’s involved in an apprenticeship – especially since some people have misconceptions that apprentices are just for school leavers. Employers should stress the flexible learning options and potential return on investment: an apprenticeship can lead to career progress. It really is a good investment in your future.

Seb Murray

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