4 December 2014

Standing out or blending in

A brief post to record thoughts on two issues I’ve been thinking about this week:

What are the implications if a person thinks of themselves as a trainee or a learner rather than a student and where does an apprentice fit in amongst these titles?

 - What differences exist in experience and perception of a course of study between that which is embedded within a traineeship, internship or apprenticeship rather than as a standalone course?

Where this stems from is that I was recently talking to a representative from one of the armed forces about apprenticeships and he–quite interestingly–told me, “most of our trainees are apprentices, they just don’t realise.” I’ve been thinking about the idea that someone might well be in formal or fairly structured learning without realising it, admitting to it or it being made public knowledge. Going off to be a student at 16, 17 or 18 perhaps even dependent on the subject, isn’t always the “coolest” thing to do.*  This is something I want to explore further, the idea that we may have to hide our aspirations and ability. Much of this stems from my own background (researcher bias alert!).

Having come from “couldn’t be further removed from higher education” beginnings, I now have an undergraduate degree plus four postgraduate qualifications and I’m (hopefully) on my way to a doctorate. (Certificates that haven’t come without a struggle and at great cost, self-funded prior to my current studentship and one previous fee waiver. My higher education has come at far greater an expense than would be covered by the proposed new postgraduate loan figures hitting the news today).

The nature of my work and postgraduate higher education sees me now mixing with people who’ve been pushed to achieve their highest, often through private education. People sometimes presume that is where I come from, a well-educated academic background (not least, a senior careers adviser who once said to me, “It will have been like this when you mum was at university.”) I don’t come from a pushy, achievement-orientated background. I come from one of the most deprived and lowest achieving educational boroughs in the UK. My experience of secondary education could only really be described as years spent immersed in a culture of publicly denying your aspirations and pretending to be less clever than you are.

So why consider the relevance of this in relation to apprenticeships? Much of my concern around my research so far focuses on the general perception and place of apprenticeships, not least in relation to who “advisers” perceive as being appropriate for apprenticeships. As demand and competition are potentially increasing (debateable, and very much related to employer-workforce skills matching) are apprenticeships rising in status? Who are apprenticeships for?

Many years ago when I went to university, I remember a tale of a boy whose family threw him out for signing up for a university course, because they weren’t willing to support him in doing so. We hear about it so much, but is higher education always the best or acceptable goal? It seems to be on the surface, but I'm not convinced this is universally true. Are there some individuals for whom a job or an apprenticeship (perhaps in a certain field) that leads to a job, of greater value and kudos?


*On being “cool” I can certainly give an education related anecdote here from my own teaching experience. The older male students I’ve at taught the OU studying creative writing modules have often cited how they couldn’t admit to wanting to write when they were younger, or indeed publicly.

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