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
Nations are ideas. We try to fashion them as territories. But how can a river, a mountain ridge or sometimes an imaginary line in the middle of a field can explain the wide division in the lives, thoughts and futures of the people who live on different sides? Nations are not the people too. Indeed, people build nations and become its body. But the soul of the nation is an idea: People come together on an idea to build a nation. While that's what a modern nation is - an idea - and that way exceptionalism is not an American exception, very few nations are as completely defined by an idea as Pakistan. There was hardly any political, geographic or military rationale of Pakistan other than the idea of an Islamic homeland in South Asia. [In that way, the ideological brother of Pakistan in the family of nations is Israel] This, abated by the short term political calculations of some backroom colonialists, created a modern state which must be solely sustained on that singular idea. Religi
This post is a reaction to Aatish Taseer's evocative obituary of secular India in the Atlantic ( read here ). While I agree with it mostly - and share the reservations about the direction and the future of India - I differ with the author on one key aspect: I do not agree with his portrayal of a resurgent Bharat eating up a secular India. In fact, I believe while Mr Taseer regrets the Indian elite's loss of connection with the realities of day to day life of the country, his very presentation of Bharat and India as oppositional entities stems from that incomprehension. While I understand that he is only using these categories as RSS uses them - to effectively other the English-speaking elites and non-Hindus - I believe it is a mistake to describe the profound changes in contemporary India as the ascendance of Bharat. I grew up in Bharat. I never learnt English until late in life, when I started working. My growing-up world was one of small-town India, vernacu
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
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 was gui
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, as
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
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
A lot of conversations about Kolkata is about its past; I want to talk about its future. Most conversations about Kolkata is about its decline - its golden moments and how times changed; I want to talk about its rise, how its best may lie ahead and how we can change the times. In place of pessimism, I seek optimism; instead of inertia, I am looking for imagination. It is not about catching up, I am arguing; it is about making a new path altogether. It had, indeed it had, a glorious past: One of the first Asian cities to reach a million population, the Capital of British India, the cradle of an Enlightened Age and a new politics of Cosmopolitanism. And, it had stumbled - losing the hinterland that supplied its Jute factories, overwhelmed by the refugees that came after the partition, devoid of its professional class who chose to emigrate - the City's commercial and professional culture evaporated in a generation, and it transformed into a corrupt and inefficien
The story of British influence on Indian Education, to which Macaulay's Minutes of 1835 belong, has been told in six distinct phases. Syed Nurullah and J P Naik's very popular and influential History of Indian Education calls these 'six acts' of the drama: From the beginning of Eighteenth Century to 1813 The British East India Company received its charter in 1600 but its activities did not include any Educational engagement till the Charter Act of 1698, which required the Company to maintain priests and schools, for its own staff and their children. And, so it was until the renewal of its charter in 1813, when the evangelical influence led to insistence of expansion of educational activities and allowing priests back into company territory. From 1813 to Wood's Education Despatch of 1854 The renewal of Charter in 1813 re-opened the debate, which seemed to have been settled in the early years of the company administration, between the Orientalis
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.