Apprenticeships: Place greater emphasis on vocational skills

Owner of Simon Taylor Furniture, Simon Taylor issues a rallying cry for apprenticeship support from the KBB industry, schools and Government

07 Feb, 23

Owner of bespoke kitchen manufacturer and retailer Simon Taylor Furniture, Simon Taylor issues a rallying cry for support of apprenticeships from the KBB industry, schools and Government

Apprenticeships: There must be a greater emphasis on vocational skills

It is widely reported that Britain has a huge manual skills shortage, and we only have to look within our own industry to see that.

For many reasons, including those of funding, it seems that schools want to promote pure academic learning at universities over the teaching of vocational skills.

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This has resulted in a shortfall of specialist skilled labour in our workforce over the past decades.

In October last year, a one-off episode of the BBC’s The Repair Shop was broadcast featuring HM King Charles III.

It was recorded when he was still HRH The Prince of Wales, and he was filmed meeting students from The Prince’s Foundation building craft programme and he talked about how apprenticeships were vital.

Speaking with Jay Blades on camera, he said: “I can see the difference we can make to people who have technical skills, which we need all the time. It gives people intense reward and satisfaction.”

He continued: “I still think the great tragedy is the lack of vocational education in schools. Actually, not everybody is designed for the academic.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Personal experience

I left school at 16 to go to Rycotewood Furniture College in Oxford, to train to become a master cabinetmaker, and I graduated youngest in my class.

I had to leave home to live near the specialist furniture college, and it wasn’t easy, but I am so glad I did it. I went on to start my cabinetmaking business in 1985.

Now, 37 years later, I now employ 25 people at our showroom HQ and cabinet workshop near Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire.

During that time, I have always run an apprenticeship scheme for local teenagers.

In 2021, Simon Taylor Furniture joined forces with Rycotewood to offer a Level 2 Furniture Manufacturer Apprenticeship course to a teenager from a local school, and in 2022 I took on my second apprentice in association with the college.

I am now seeking a third, because I am so impressed by the work that Rycotewood does to educate and inform, while we provide professional skills training here at my cabinet workshop.

Valuable contribution

Our apprentices make a valuable contribution working at Simon Taylor Furniture and they all earn while they learn.

When their apprenticeships end, we actively help them to enter the wider workplace.

However, apprentices are quite hard to recruit, and that is because the focus at schools is on obtaining university degrees, and less on vocational skills.

I would like to see greater emphasis given to the subject of apprenticeships and technical courses in schools.

Teachers and careers advisors would be positive advocates, endorsing the benefits of having a part work / part college-based education that results in a meaningful qualification.

As opposed to continually promoting degree courses, these qualifications should be highly regarded.

Most of all, teenagers should not be made to feel they are second best because they want to learn a trade or a specialist craft when they are 16 years old. They should be encouraged. After all, we need them.

This isn’t necessarily the fault of schools. This will take an attitude change from the top, at Government level, from where the funding comes from.

Like his Majesty the King, I will keep flying the flag for apprenticeships.