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Rhian Johns
Director of Policy and Campaigns, Impetus-Private Equity Foundation
Rhian  Johns

'Role model kettling' Britain’s youth

Authors: Rhian Johns Director of Policy and Campaigns Impetus- PEF

04 March 2014

This week is National Apprenticeship Week.  Ordinarily I’m not a fan of naming days or weeks after specific causes, however I can certainly see the need to raise the profile and understanding of the importance of apprenticeships – especially given the high levels of youth unemployment in the UK today.  Yesterday ( Monday 3 March) I attended a 'Skills for the Future' conference held in London by The Work Foundation where both Matthew Hancock MP and Liam Byrne MP were speaking.  Apprenticeships have at least some political consensus.  Although political parties differ on the detail, they can agree that the old fashioned way of training young people to be thriving employees in the UK labour market, with not much tinkering, can be a very successful modern approach for doing just the same for young people in the 21st century UK labour market.

But it wasn’t either of the politicians that captured my imagination yesterday.  It was a comment made towards the end of the day by Nigel Whitehead, Managing Director, BAE Systems.  He spoke passionately about how young people learn attitudes and the more general work skills, such as good time-keeping, through spending time with and  emulating older mentors.  The phrase he used was “role model kettling” – but unlike the negative associations of police capturing protestors into a corner, mentors can capture young workers at the beginning of their career and through leading by example, coax them in company culture, moulding their attitudes and behaviours.  

This simple idea of using older more experienced workers to not just train young people in the technical skills required for a job, but also to mentor and guide them in how to work, what it means to be an employee and to be a part of a company and team is not a new concept.  No doubt it’s as old as work itself.  The phrase “role model kettling” however, to me, expressed the concept in rather a succinct  and modern way!
As someone who thrives on innovation and new ideas, I don’t always spend enough time looking at existing ideas that already work. Apprenticeships certainly have some work to do on adapting their image for a new generation of workers, new and different industry sectors and different demographics of employees.  But let’s not underestimate the power of the original concept.

 And whilst I totally agree we need many, many more apprenticeship places, these must never come at the cost of quality.  Yes, I agree that businesses must have more ownership of the learning frameworks and qualifications received by apprentices, but not at the cost of the mentorship element.  New sectors, especially those that currently employ large numbers of young people should be encouraged to develop apprenticeship programmes, but not at the cost of career pathways and un-limited progression within the company.  Apprenticeships must remain more than just another vocational option for the non-academic, they must be about learning and earning and career progression and most importantly they must remain more than just the sum of the skills a young person learns. Having an experienced role model to guide and mentor young workers is a powerful way to prepare young workers to excel in Britain’s 21st century labour market. Let’s ‘role model kettle’ Britain’s youth.

Apprenticeship Week takes place between 3 -7 March #NAW2014