There's a press release on A4e's own website which bugs me. They are taking on 20 apprentices at A4e, in Sheffield, basically to do admin, working towards "a Level 2 Apprenticeship in Customer Service or Business Administration". It's in support of something called National Apprenticeship Week. That's good, surely, for the 20 people who might get a properly-paid job out of it?
But is it good for them or anyone else? After all, an "apprentice" gets £2.73 an hour (unless it's gone up recently). And the very word is deceitful. An apprentice used to be a youngster who spent up to 7 years learning a skilled trade, paid not very much, but at the end of it emerging as a skilled man (rarely a woman) who could get well paid work anywhere but usually stayed with the original company. There are a few large companies who still take on apprentices on that basis. But the last government started something called "modern apprenticeships" to fill the gap caused by employers who refused to train their workers themselves. And this government has downgraded the concept even further. Far too often now, an apprentice is just someone who can be paid next to nothing while doing a meaningless qualification.
I left school at 16, a long, long time ago, and walked straight into what was then called a clerical job. The pay was poor, but so was everyone's in that office. In less than a week I had grasped the job. But I didn't like it, so got another job. After 9 months of that I left and became a civil servant. Then after a year I went to college. In each of my three, very different, jobs the employer expected to have to teach me what the job entailed then rely on my ability to do it. I was not being exploited as cheap labour. And that's what these apprenticeships feel like.
So I don't want to slag off A4e simply for trying to get some good publicity out of giving a start to 20 admin trainees. But are they, like so many other employers, just using the system to avoid paying people properly?