Friday, 27 February 2015

In two minds

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?


  1. You fail your own standard! You are slagging off A4e. The Company is making a genuine effort to combine well-defined training, with practical experience. So much education continues to separate the "learning" from the "doing" such that the "qualified" person emerging from the "training/education" that they take years to really learn how to work - and thereby put themselves in a position to optimize their income.

    1. I have taken this course and a Level 2 in Retail Knowledge (via A4e). They are set at a very basic level and like many modern qualifications are vacuous and actually not recognised by employers.

      They are absolutely not comparable to genuine apprenticeships in skilled trades. Working in a call centre, shop or office is not a trade and does not require an apprenticeship and the intense training that involves.

      For example, After many years working in kitchens I got a job in an office and a transport clerk. It took me two weeks to pick up the job AND I was paid the NMW.

      Modern apprenticeships are simply a con trick to devalue the cost of labour. The effect of this has been to lower value of labour for EVERYONE hence the fall in real wages since 2007 and fall in tax receipts.

      Apprenticeships in skilled trades are useful because they help small employers with the cost of labour. Modern apprenticeships are designed simply to maximise the profits of big business and rich multi-national companies. There is big difference.

    2. I think you are wrong,Historian is not slagging off A4E,although with their track record? A4E has proven through the WP,MWA and CWP that they look after themselves first,if by chance someone actually gets a job then you might get some help,I recently completed MWA it was an uphill battle to get refunded for travel,during the month the A4E rep spent 20 minutes at induction repeating that Sanctions would apply,when questioned about any other aspect of what MWA entailed or what could we expect from A4E he became aggressive,other than chasing up travel expenses that was the only contact during the month,we were all promised a letter of reference from A4E,did not happen,it turns out that A4E is paid on day 1 and in my opinion after that they do not give a toss.

    3. Sick of the Work Programme3 March 2015 at 07:03

      What a dreadful experience, jray. However, it doesn't surprise me at all that A4e behaved in that way. It also raises a very important point and a main reason for mandatory work placements being of no use in terms of getting jobseekers back into work which is that, if they won't even provide you with a reference, it is just as if you hadn't done the placement at all because you can't prove to any employer that you did it! From my experiences of them, A4e seem to be about one thing only, and that is getting their hands on as much money as they can from the taxpayer.

  2. For once I am prepared to give A4e the benefit of the doubt on this. Though I do doubt very much that any of the 20 apprentices will be taken on at the end of their (6 month?) "apprenticeship" - they'll just replaced by another 20. At least they will have something to put on their CVs.
    From the employers' point of view this is cheap (or even free ) labour (how much does the government pay to the employer?). From the Government angle the "apprentices" disappear from the unemployment and NEET counts and Cameron can crow about helping the yoof.
    Really A4e are no worse than other employers who are exploiting these apprenticeships but it does stick in the craw when they, in their uniquely immodest way, boast about it. In due course it will be interesting to see how many of these apprentices get a full time. properly paid job with A4e. My money is on "not many".

  3. I have a nephew in his mid 20's. He is doing an engineering apprenticeship with Unilever. To back up Historian's point, it is a solid apprenticeship where he goes to a local college once a week and learns on the job. He is not earning a great deal right now (although considerably more than £2.73 p.h.)

    But he should do once his apprenticeship is over as he has been guaranteed a relevant position within the company. Moreover, he is not restricted to Unilever within Gt. Britain and N.I. He could work at their other operations within the rest of the EU, N. America, Asia, Africa or Australia if he so wished.

    This is what an apprenticeship should be all about. Offering young people (and perhaps those not so young wish to retrain) real training, qualifications and a stake in the companies who take them on. Not the dodgy ten-a-penny schemes laughingly calling themselves apprenticeships that only serve to provide a revolving door of cheap labour.

  4. Somewhat off topic I know. However, I caught the start of the Wright Stuff on the same channel before I went out this morning. Matthew Wright was asking if Labour was right to make it an offence to demonise the poor. Which I found rich coming from Ch5 and their benefit obsessed programming.

    The funny thing was that during the actual ad break, Ch5 highlighted yet another of its programs about those on benefits - apparently a whole estate on benefits. (Cannot recall the actual title).

    I do hope Mr Wright realises much of the demonising of the poor comes direct from his very employers!!!

    The really funny thing was

  5. A4e are using their skills funding (via the SFA and not the DWP) to fund these - this means that they will be drawing down funding to deliver the qualifications to these youngsters - they are paid monthly on programme payments and payments for the young people achieving milestones such as functional skills qualifications and technical certificates. At the end of the apprenticeship they are paid completion payments.

    All in all, depending on the ages of the guys who undertake the apprenticeships they will probably be paid £2500 per apprentice AND have had 12 months work from them at £2-3ph? Very cheap labour if you consider the outlay PLUS the fact that they are delivering high numbers means the SFA will recontract with them next academic year (Aug)

    Anyone who doubts this can look on the SFA website and see a list of contract values given to everyone, including A4e. I know that A4e deliver their ALR funding internally to their Work Programme customers by virtue of employability qualifications. This means they are effectively paid twice for each one.

    Interesting way of ensuring all the money is kept internally and I would be very interested to know how many of these apprentices are kept on past 12 months or get replaced with new £2500 apprentices


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