Apprenticeships have long been regarded as a useful way to grow young talent with a mix of on-the-job training and traditional classroom learning.

But as the UK apprenticeship programme becomes more extensive to cover a wider subject matter, the flagship youth training scheme is now facing something of an identity crisis with business owners in certain sectors voicing concern at the effectiveness of some of the shorter training schemes.

This was the warning made by the Forum at the recent Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) Select Committee’s inquiry into apprenticeships at the House of Commons.

In its submission to the official inquiry, the Forum argued central government could and should be more effective in overcoming the lack of clarity over information about apprenticeships, but said it entirely agreed with the scheme’s expansion.

Shorter apprenticeship courses have recently come under fire from UK business owners, particularly those in traditional industries such as manufacturing and engineering, where the argument has been made that such courses do not provide the same value as the longer schemes they run – despite evidence of their popularity among more service-orientated sectors including retail.

It is, of course, important that shorter apprenticeships are more than simply glorified training schemes which cost businesses a substantial amount of cash, but provide very little in substance for students. There should also be care taken against diluting courses so they fall below industry standards.

Providing these schemes are accredited, shown to address real skills needs, and are well regarded, even as ‘entry level’ apprenticeships, they should rightly be valued, protected and promoted.

There should be more awareness of the differences between intense, four-year apprenticeships and shorter schemes, with greater clarity about their applicability to businesses in different industries. There should also be more centralised information about where to source information, funding and the types of courses being offered.

With resources scarce for small firms there is a need for better information and greater, more detailed feedback on the effectiveness of courses to ensure quality control is delivered. This could be closer interaction between training providers and local businesses – this is something long championed by the Forum.

It’s not all bad news though for apprenticeships, with progress made by the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS), particularly its commitment to advertise a firm’s apprenticeship position within one month.

NAS have also pledged to place an apprentice within three months, and remove any health and safety requirements that go beyond national standards.

This type of red tape is something the Forum says has traditionally turned a lot of firms off from subscribing to apprenticeship schemes.

Earlier this year, the Forum marked National Apprenticeship Week by urging the government to simplify the entire apprenticeship system in order to make them more business-friendly and appealing to industry leaders.

It said training courses such as apprenticeships need to be seen as more worthy by industry, and urged decision-makers to incentivise small businesses to take on young people and reward those that do; to work more closely with employers on delivering training provision in terms of local need; and to simplify other aspects of these types of training schemes.

The Forum also suggested closer co-operation between business and education providers to allow a more tailored approach to local skill needs.

A more proactive approach in reaching out to businesses would better shape the schemes being offered, and training providers must work with small businesses to better understand the needs of the local community and create courses which reflect the job opportunities in the labour market.

Robert Downes, Policy Advisor for
Forum of Private Business