Apprenticeships seem like one idea whose time never comes.
Or, its time may have come and gone, long time ago. Its past makes it appear romantic, just like medieval castles and knights. Its reality, however, might have been very different: Apprenticeships might have been too long and too limiting. There was a reason why it was one of the practises that died off with time. But its passing is mourned, and its memory evokes a time when work meant a long commitment and lifelong engagement. It signifies a different reality from today's uprooted workers and dehumanised workplaces, something we feel nostalgic about.
So it is evoked from time to time, as the policy-makers run out of ideas. As job crisis hits countries - an effect of the twin forces of globalisation and automation - college, the enabler of middle class dream, seems to fall short. College's own medieval mystic, that of a detached pursuit of humanistic knowledge, looks out of place - too long, too academic, too disconnected and too expensive! Various rounds of government funding, therefore, seeks to build apprenticeships as a technically focused and employer engaged alternative, a panacea to the persistent skills deficit and productivity issues.
Just one problem: They don't work!
This is one of the areas in modern policy-making no one really wants to talk about. Or, even when people acknowledge that the Apprenticeships did not work, they usually see this as an implementation issue. Each successive Government Minister, in Britain and elsewhere, comes up with his or her own tweaks in the system, one final solution to fix the broken system, until the next Minister and his solutions. No one wants to ask the question whether Apprenticeships are fit for purpose - as a catch-all solution for getting millions of young people into jobs - because it is politically so attractive, both to the Right and to the Left. This is one of the last remaining orthodoxies everyone can agree on.
But, as I mentioned, empirical evidence suggests otherwise. Apprenticeships often lead to nowhere. Indeed, there are success stories in the newspapers, but that's the man-bites-dog case, exceptions rather than the rule. Besides, apprenticeships often mean getting stuck, at a low level poorly paid job, where only permanent factor is the lack of job security. Where are the 3 million success stories of David Cameron apprentices, one would ask. India seems deeper into skills deficit after its much vaunted skills training programme spent all its money. And, in America, it never seems to take off!
Before I write any further, though, I must make a distinction between Apprenticeships as an idea and Apprenticeships as a programme or approach of mass training. Indeed, the successful apprentices are everywhere: All doctors, nurses, lawyers and Accountants have gone through some form of long and arduous apprenticeships. But the government programmes aim differently: Not long but shorter apprenticeships (one year is the most common length) and not at 'professional' jobs but vocational, shop floor ones. This is the second type which has manifestly failed, and its failure is becoming even more pervasive and troubling as the workplaces change and Robots step in.
One can perhaps see two problems almost instantaneously with these Apprenticeship programmes as conceived.
First, while they try to reclaim the medieval charm of apprenticeships, the government programmes are funding-bound and focused on wrong parameters. Mastery of a job, which requires long engagement, is not the goal. In fact, these programmes are measured by time and not mastery. And, therefore, shorter the better, as long programmes will not be financially feasible and politically attractive. These programmes, therefore, are often designed to be illusions of apprenticeships, a frugal and superficial supply of cheap labour, often a distraction to serious employers than a strategic source of talent.
Second, apprenticeships aim low. The modern apprenticeship programmes are designed to serve those who can't go to college. College, and its supposed aim of professional knowledge, remains the ideal, the way to middle class dream. The apprenticeships are the second class option, for those who are not very good. This devalues apprenticeships as an option almost from the start. The colleges choose to avoid the word altogether, sticking to an alternative such as the internship, and while it remains common among many professions, apprentices are seen as those who failed. In a society where politicians promote middle class dreams, apprenticeships are tickets to nowhere. In areas where education is meaningless without practical work, professions that I cite above but also sectors such as Hospitality, a long apprenticeship often forms the core of a degree programme. But, anything outside, anything that the Government labels as Apprenticeship, is immediately devalued and rendered meaningless.
Therefore, persistence of college guarantees the failure of the apprenticeship schemes. But this is a bigger problem than it appears. It is not just about degree over diploma, to be fixed with tweaks of funding regimes. It is mainly about what kind of knowledge we value. We prefer expert, theoretical knowledge over contextual knowledge emanating from practise, an enlightenment idea ingrained in modernity (and in college education). The global turn, as well as automation, may push the pendulum back and practical, local knowledge may have become more important, but the idea is still at odds with how we think. We want to codify ' soft skills' even when we acknowledge they are 'soft' and intangible, because our infatuation with a particular idea of knowledge and mastery runs so deep. This is the biggest hurdle Apprenticeship schemes face: What we call knowledge and expertise and what we value is directly oppositional to what they promote. And, unless this changes, Apprenticeship Schemes will remain the panacea in waiting.
Popular posts from this blog
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below: "I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation." The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which
Introduction : The Business of Gift Giving Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are usually seen as an ‘advertising, sales promotion and marketing communication medium’ (Cooper et al , 1991). Arunthanes et al (1994) points out that such gifting is practised usually for three reasons: (a) in appreciation for past client relationships, placing a new order, referrals to other clients, etc.; (b) in the hopes of creating a positive, first impression which might help to establish an initial business relationship; and (c) giving may be perceived as a quid Pro quo (i.e. returning a favour or expecting a favour in return for something). The practitioners of gift-giving generally argue that doing business is often an aggregation of personal interactions and relationships, and gift-giving should be seen as a natural way of maintaining and enhancing these relationships. ‘Business gifts, especially one given in the course of the festive s
Buzzwords have disadvantages. Right now, experiential learning is one, and that means we put the label on everything and it stops to mean anything. Also, this means reasonable conversation about experiential learning becomes difficult - at times such as this, either you preach experiential learning or you are traditional, antiquarian and hopelessly out of touch. But, overlooking the limitations of experiential learning can cause big problems. Experiential Learning does many things - putting practice at the heart of learning is an important paradigm shift - but not everything, and it is important to be aware what it does not do. Usually, we equate the terms Project-based Learning (the method) with Experiential Learning (the idea) and Learning from Experience (the ideal), treating them as one and the same and using the terms interchangeably. Any talk about distinctive meaning of these terms is usually seen as pedantic, but really represent very different ideas about education.
Today, Helen Goddard, 26, a highly popular music teacher of a City School for Girls, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison. Her crime was to carry out a year long lesbian affair with one of her pupils, who appeared in the court and admitted that the affair was consensual and it was she who pressured Helen into the affair. For Helen, a bright musician and a devout Chistian, this is an extraordinary lapse of judgement. Also, she was teaching in the £13,000 private girls only school in London. She was surely aware what the consequences of her action will be. The fact that she still could not stop herself tells us that lovers do not always act rationally, something we always knew. There is more in this affair than personal tragedies. For a start, this has all the dramatic elements: a bright, beautiful teacher more in Julia Roberts mould [as in Mona Lisa Smile], a stiff upper lip school [not unlike Wellesley] and a story like Notes On A Scandal with an added twist. Indeed, Helen
There is no other city like Kolkata for me: It is Home. The only city where I don't have to find a reason to go to, or to love. It is one city hardwired into my identity, and despite being away for a decade, that refuses to go away. People stay away from their homeland for a variety of reasons. But, as I have come to feel, no one can be completely happy to be away. One may find fame or fortune, love and learning, in another land, but they always live an incomplete life. They bring home broken bits of their homeland into their awkward daily existence, a cushion somewhere, a broken conversation in mother tongue some other time, always rediscovering the land they left behind for that brief moment of wanting to be themselves. The cruelest punishment, therefore, for a man who lives abroad is when his love for his land is denied. It is indeed often denied, because the pursuit of work, knowledge or love seemed to have gotten priority over the attraction of the land. This is particularly
Introduction: Hastings in the history of Indian Education Whether or not one includes Warren Hastings in the history of Education in India is a matter of perspective. If writing the history of education means writing the history of schools, the impact of Hastings' administration would be quite limited. If anything, the rapid implosion of local rulers in Eastern, Southern and Northern India during Hastings' tenure had meant a bleak period for the indigenous education system, as patronage and funds would have dwindled away for many of them. The Company administration really concerned itself with the schooling of the natives only after 1813, as Nurullah and Naik rightly pointed out ( see my earlier post ) and one can legitimately start the story at this point. However, if history of Education in India is to encompass the transformation of Indian Scholarship, on which foundation the new, colonial, system of Education would be built, the story must start with Warren Hast
In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today – people used to be embarrassed about making a profit not so long ago. Crazy as it seems today, it is worth thinking why it was so. Profits, as economists will put it, is the reward for risk-taking, for putting a business enterprise together in the pursuit of an objective. In this definition, remember, profits are not what it is commonly understood to be – the gross middle-line towards the bottom – but a figure net of entrepreneur’s earning [wages for his labour], dividends and interests on borrowed capital, and provisions for building and other physical assets [a sort of rent, offsetting what these assets could have earned if leased out]. This pure profit – surplus – accrues to a business as a reward to its organisation, for the act of entrepreneurship itself. Economists were divided on how this surplus comes about. The conventional wisdom was,
I wrote a note on Kolkata, the city I come from and would always belong to, in July 2010. Since then, the post attracted many visitors and comments, mostly critical, as most people, including those from Kolkata, couldn't see any future for the city. My current effort, some 18 months down the line, is also prompted by a recent article in The Economist, The City That Got Left Behind , which echo the pessimism somewhat. I, at least emotionally, disagree to all the pessimism: After all Kolkata is home and I live in the hope of an eventual return. Indeed, some change has happened since I wrote my earlier post: The geriatric Leftist government that ruled the state for more than 30 years was summarily dispatched, and was replaced by a lumpen-capitalist populist government. Kolkata looked without a future with the clueless leftists at the helm; it now looks without hope. However, apart from bad governance, there is no reason why Kolkata had to be poor and hopeless. It sits right
In our age, the only way to be politically correct is to be democratic. This is a post-70s affair - those days, still, some people had alternative ideologies in mind. Those alternate ideas are dead and gone, long discredited, and it seems that we have only one system which can make people happy, free and live longer. So, we have this huge export industry of democracy, and democracy's warriors, which the American security establishment has lately become. The democracy's businessmen, the bond traders, the media barons and the Hollywood types, are feted everywhere. The consensus is deafening and dumbing. It is indeed awkward to ask now - whether democracy is the right system for every society. It indeed should be. Collective wisdom is better than individual autocracy. In societies where democratic elections have been few and far between, the popular vote has demonstrated the extra-ordinary political savvy of the usually disinterested masses. Democracy has proved to be an excell
Introduction Erna Petri née Kürbs, a farmer’s daughter from Herressen in Thuringia, arrived in Ukraine with her three year old son to join her husband Horst in June 1942. Horst, an SS leader inspired by Nazi ideologue Dr Richard Walter Darré, settled in the plantation of Grzenda, just outside today’s Lviv, to become a German Gentleman-Farmer. Erna saw Horst beating and abusing the workers in the plantation within two days of arriving there, which was, as Horst explained, necessary for establishing authority. Erna joined in enthusiastically, settling into a combination of roles of ‘plantation mistress, prairie Madonna in apron-covered dress lording over slave labourers, infant-carrying, gun-wielding Hausfrau.’  However, there were clear rules in the plantation, and Erna was very much expected to play the woman’s role of being a Cake-and-Coffee hostess. When four Jews were caught in the estate while trying to escape from a transport to a death camp, Horst told Erna and her female
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.