Politicians unite for Apprenticeship reform

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AAT recently commissioned YouGov to establish MPs views on Apprenticeships.

The results have shown that MPs, irrespective of their party, are keen to see reforms to the Apprenticeship Levy, the 3 million Apprenticeship starts target and the promotion of Apprenticeships in schools.

Apprenticeship Levy

AAT has always believed that the new £3bn Apprenticeship Levy should be renamed as the “Skills Levy”, and that levy monies should be able to be spent on traineeships and other forms of high quality training, rather than being solely focused on Apprenticeships.

Such a change would benefit individuals, employers and the economy. Most MPs from across the political divide agree.

When polled in December 2017, almost three quarters of MPs (72%) agreed that the Apprenticeship Levy should be developed over time to allow funding for other high-quality skills training. This is a 7% increase on the 65% of MPs who gave this response when asked the same question in December 2016, suggesting an increase in support for such a change.

Between May and July 2017 there was a 61% drop in the numbers taking up an Apprenticeship compared to the same period in 2016. Figures for the following three-month period (August – October 2017) released last week showed another drop, this time of 26%.

It has often been said that many people, especially the young, are not “Apprenticeship ready” i.e. they don’t have the necessary skills or experience to successfully start, and certainly not complete, an Apprenticeship. There’s a ready-made solution – traineeships.

Traineeships are specifically designed to help young people who want to get an apprenticeship or job but don’t yet have appropriate skills or experience. The problem is that they currently can’t be funded by the rigid Apprenticeship Levy. Increasing the number of people taking traineeships would have the knock on effect of increasing the number of people taking an Apprenticeship. Widening the scope of  the Levy to pay for traineeships and other high quality training would genuinely yield win-win results.

With increasing support for widening the scope of the Apprenticeship Levy amongst MPs, as there has long been amongst industry and educationalists, Government should now be confident of support should it choose to look at ways of making the Levy operate in a more effective manner.

3m Apprenticeship Starts Target

Most people recognise the importance in ensuring more women, more disabled people and more people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds get involved in Apprenticeships.

The numbers at present are far from impressive. The overwhelming majority (88% or 431,000 people) of all those starting an Apprenticeship in 2016/17 were white. Likewise, just 10% (50,500) were learners with a disability or a learning difficulty.

Although more women than men have started an Apprenticeship every year since 2011, this overall figure masks a multitude of problems, not least the fact that a paltry 8% of all Science, Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Apprenticeship starts are women.

Clearly, introducing specific targets here would help concentrate the minds of both employers and Government. AAT’s study last month found that more than half of MPs (53%) agree.

Introducing specific targets could be done for the existing 2020 deadline, utilising the existing data from the first three years of apprenticeship starts and promoting stretching targets on these characteristics over the next two years. However, a more likely scenario is to ensure that any future Apprenticeship starts target post 2020 includes stretching targets for all of these important areas.

Of course, as AAT has repeatedly made clear, the starts target is only one measure, the others are quality and completions. There is no point in having lots of people start an Apprenticeship if they don’t complete it, no matter what their background. Similarly, there is little value in undertaking a poor-quality Apprenticeship that subsequently proves to be of little value in the world of work.

Careers Information, Advice & Guidance

An Ofsted report published in 2013 found that three quarters of schools they visited were not delivering effective careers advice.

Having spoken to dozens of AAT apprentices over the past 18 months, as well as those from other industries, it’s clear that most Apprentices have succeeded despite the system not because of it.

Young people need to know about the jobs available, they can’t aspire to something they know nothing about and with most schools obsessed with promoting only academic routes rather than technical and vocational education, tens of thousands of teenagers are missing out.

Apprenticeships are not the solution for everyone, neither is Higher Education, but being exposed to the various opportunities available is essential if future generations are going to make informed decisions about what type of career they might want to pursue.

Again, it would appear that MPs from all political parties recognise this too. AAT’s study found that over two thirds of MPs (67%) think careers information, advice and guidance is too heavily geared towards Higher Education.

The publication of a long-awaited Government Careers Strategy in December 2017 is a small step in tackling the problem but there is a long way to go before we move from a situation where politicians recognise the problem to one where they actually do something meaningful about it.

Phil Hall is AAT's Head of Public Affairs and Public Policy.

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