By Dr Heli Kaatrakoski, Learning and Development Professional, Researcher, Teacher

Developing apprenticeships can be an excellent way of providing people of different ages with education and training opportunities. With the UK Government’s pledge of 3million apprenticeships by 2020 and the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy in April this year, the number of apprentices is expected to increase.

The apprenticeship model itself is old, having roots in the late Middle Ages, and is often defined as the first form of paid work and a basic model of workplace learning. Apprentices were developed within craftwork to train young people to support their learning path from novice to a skilled craftsman. The process centred on the transfer of skills to individuals, but also assisted in renewal of existing knowledge and working culture.

Despite positive rhetoric around apprenticeships, their implementation can be a demanding and complex process. Some current challenges are associated with the changing landscape between universities and businesses and issues around Degree Apprenticeships. In this blog, I raise two more general challenges as well as a suggestion for a useful framework for developing apprenticeships.

One challenge relates to the fact that organisations are primarily places for work and not learning. This means that employers need to create a “space” for learning and introduce the idea that managers are not only managers, but also teachers. Apprenticeship models evolve and therefore educational institutions also need to rethink their “space of learning”, practice and curriculum to respond to needs of the community. From the viewpoint of students, there is a need to build up their identity at the boundaries of an employee and a learner, which is not always straightforward.

Another challenge is that an apprenticeship model that works in one context does not necessarily fit to another context and therefore constant development of models may be needed once implemented. Martyn Sloman reported on good practices in three cases in which apprenticeship models were developed. He explained:

“The most appropriate processes, or interventions to support, accelerate and direct young people’s learning can be determined only within the context of the organisation. For this reason, successful initiatives will not be readily transferrable to another business environment nor will they be scalable (capable of being ramped up across the economy as a whole)”.

Alison Fuller and Lorna Unwin have for several years studied apprenticeships and created “Expansive and Restrictive Framework” to develop and increase the quality of apprenticeship programmes. In the table below is summarised the key aspects of the framework:

Expansive Restrictive
Apprenticeship is used as a vehicle for aligning the goals of developing the individual and organisational capability Apprenticeship is used to tailor individual capability to organisational need
Workplace and provider share a post-Apprenticeship vision: progression for career Post-Apprenticeship vision: static for job
Apprentice has dual status as learner and employee: explicit recognition of, and support for, apprentice’s status as learner Status as employee dominates: status as learner restricted to minimum required to meet Apprenticeships Framework
Apprentice makes a gradual transition to productive worker and expertise in occupational field Fast transition to productive worker with limited knowledge of occupational field; or existing, already productive, workers as apprentices with minimal development
Apprentice is treated as a member of an occupational and workplace community with access to the community’s rules, history, knowledge and practical expertise Apprentice treated as an extra pair of hands who only needs access to limited knowledge and skills to perform job
Apprentice participates in different communities of practice inside and outside the workplace Participation restricted to narrowly defined job role and work station
Workplace maps everyday work tasks against qualification requirements – qualification valued as adding extra skills and knowledge to immediate job requirements Weak relationship between workplace tasks and qualifications – no recognition for skills and knowledge acquired beyond immediate work tasks
Qualifications develop knowledge for progression to next level and platform for further education Qualifications accredit limited range of on the job competence
Apprentice has planned time off the job for study and to gain wider perspective Off the job simply a minor extension of on the job
Apprentice’s existing skills and knowledge recognised and valued and used as platform for new learning Apprentices regarded as ‘blank sheets’ or ‘empty vessels’
Apprentice’s progress closely monitored and involves regular constructive feedback from range of employer and provider personnel who take a holistic approach Apprentice’s progress monitored for job performance with limited feedback – provider involvement restricted to formal assessments for qualifications unrelated to job performance

In expansive learning environments, learning opportunities are created in a way that individuals can use their capabilities, demonstrate their potential and develop. Apprentices do not only learn, but also contribute to renewing the working culture. In restrictive learning environments, the main objective is to produce productive workers too quickly resulting in losing the chance to benefit from apprentices’ knowledge and opportunities to develop own organisational capabilities.

Fuller’s and Unwin’s framework is a useful guideline with which to analyse, develop and reflect on organisations’ apprenticeship models and processes, while keeping in mind the character of the existing working context and roles of the participants involved.



Fuller, A., & Unwin, L. (2010). Creating and Supporting Expansive Apprenticeships: a guide for employers, training providers and colleges of further education. National Apprenticeship Service.

Sloman, M. (2014),”Apprenticeships: silver bullet or hard slog?”, Industrial and Commercial Training, Vol. 46 (3), 117 – 123.


by Dr Heli Kaatrakoski, Learning and Development Professional, Researcher, Teacher


Published: 19 October 2017