Why apprentices need to learn on the job
For far too long, apprenticeships have been seen as the poor relation to formal degrees, even though firms hire from both qualifications. Given the boom in megaprojects
in the Gulf, and the need for a technically skilled labor force, it is a good time to take stock of how a talented pipeline of apprentices can help to achieve these ambitious national objectives.
The private sector has an important role to play here by advising vocational technical institutes on the type of labor they need, to avoid a mismatch between the market and graduates, as has been the case for many years in some Gulf countries. The international conference organized by the Saudi Ministry of Education from May 8 to 11 discussed dealing with epidemic challenges, curricula and digital innovation among other things. However, although apprentices get a lot of attention around the world, they are still somewhat overlooked in the Gulf.
Apprenticeships combine fundamental theoretical knowledge received from formal classes and on-the-job training with companies, unlike university students who often do not work on practical programs. These types of programs are traditionally associated with engineering, but they have been rolled out into the financial sector with training offered in data analytics and software engineering.
For those who advocate equal opportunities for young people, apprentices tend to be drawn from more diverse backgrounds than graduate recruits. This type of training attracts female entrants to male-dominated sectors around the world. In the Gulf, female vocational training institute graduates have taken up such jobs as plumbing and electrical work. Women have also replaced some expatriate labor in these areas, as some Gulf families feel more comfortable having national female apprentices carrying out work in their homes. The focus on expanding the Saudi travel and tourism sector will also open up apprentice opportunities for both genders to work in this new market, along with formal graduates with languages and marketing degrees.
It is important to understand why people become apprentices, so training schemes are flexible enough to take this into account. Apprentices who have left school with few qualifications, use these programs to grow in confidence and to make a real impact on their careers. Others with existing qualifications use vocational programs to move into new areas. Even those graduating with traditional degrees feel that obtaining specialized on-the-job apprenticeships will help them enter a more competitive labor market.
In some European countries, especially Germany, there is a long tradition of favoring apprenticeships over formal degrees to produce a professionally skilled workforce. It is not surprising that the German vocational training model is a rigorous combination of formal teaching and on-the-job placement with companies that end up offering graduates full-time jobs after graduation. This reduces drop-out rates compared to traditional vocational programs that only deliver classroom training, as is mostly the case with the majority of training institutes in the Gulf.
The biggest attraction of apprenticeships is the opportunity to grow in a workplace environment and shape early career choices while building company relationships along the way. The satisfaction of putting what they have learned directly into use is priceless.
In the Gulf, it is imperative that employers in the private and public sectors offer apprentices short-term opportunities as well as permanent work, as part of their social and corporate responsibilities.
• Dr. Mohamed Ramady is a former senior banker and Professor of Finance and Economics, King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, Dhahran.