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In praise of apprenticeships

Posted by on January 31, 2013

by Rebecca Nesbit

I was interested to hear an interviewee on the Today programme worried about the reluctance amongst many parents and schools to recognise the true value of apprenticeships. As someone who graduated prior to top-up fees, I often ask myself ‘if I was 18 now, would university still be the right thing?’, so I was curious to learn more about what apprenticeships are on offer in the life science sector.

The range of biological science that apprenticeships cover includes environmental sciences, nanotechnology, genetics and the immune system. Opportunities include laboratory technicians, working on everything from environmental and medical science to fermentation. The ‘on the job’ training for these apprentices may include collecting and analysing samples, preparing cultures or specimens, managing laboratory supplies and equipment, setting up experiments, and recording data.

Apprenticeships are clearly an excellent way to learn the practical skills employers need and the attitude needed to succeed in the work place. What people perhaps don’t appreciate is that apprentices learn about the fundamentals of science and take a qualification in science, usually on a day-release basis. Many apprentices go on to study for university degrees.

If you, your child, or your pupils are making a decision about what to do after school it is definitely worth browsing the Apprenticeships website. Even if you believe university is for you, it is valuable to know all the routes in to the career you are hoping for. You can find more information specifically about biology apprenticeships on the Society of Biology website. If you are an apprentice, you can now have your skills recognised in the Life Sciences Skills Awards, deadline 15th Feb.

An apprenticeship is a two way relationship, and employers can benefit from training apprentices, whether or not they go on to employ them on a permanent basis.

When the Society of Biology was researching employers’ experiences to help guide its Degree Accreditation Programme, it became clear that many employers struggle to recruit young workers with the practical skills they need. Degree Accreditation is designed to ensure graduates gain the skills they need and that employers are able to identify graduates with the right skills. Apprenticeships likewise enable employers to help maintain high skill levels in the life sciences, by helping them train their own workforce.

Cogent, a skills council, has produced a useful booklet for employers who want to explore the possibility, and grants are available.

Employers, of apprentices or otherwise, can also enter the Life Science Skills Awards run by Cogent.

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