Short apprenticeships offer “no real benefit,” say MPs

Apprenticeships delivered in six months or less offer “no real benefit” to learners or employers, according to a report published by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

Margaret Hodge MP, who chaired the panel, says she is concerned that roughly one in five apprenticeships (19 per cent) were delivered in six months or less during 2010/11.

“The danger is that apprenticeships lasting such a short time are of no real benefit to either the individuals who take part or employers and could devalue the programme,” Ms Hodge said.

“I am pleased therefore that the skills minister announced recently that adult apprenticeships will last a minimum of six months and normally at least 12 months.”

However, the growth in adult apprenticeships has been branded a “success” by the PAC.

The panel of backbench MPs says the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) “has done very well” to more than quadruple the number of adult apprentices in the four years leading up to 2010/11.

“We recognise the significant achievement of the Department and its partners in raising both the number of adult apprentices and the percentage who successfully complete their apprenticeship,” the report reads.

The report later suggests that the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) could be overpaying private training providers due to “out-of-date” funding rates.

“The Service does not know what level of profits providers are making on different types of apprenticeships,” the report reads.

“Nor does it know whether it is subsidising some apprenticeships more than others.”

It later adds: “There is also evidence to suggest some providers are providing training without receiving the expected contribution from employers.

“The Service should work closely with the Agency to link the funding it provides more closely with the delivery costs.”

Ms Hodge said: “If the Service is to get better at targeting of resources, it needs to understand better which apprenticeships in which sectors deliver the best value for money.

“It doesn’t currently know what levels of profit the providers are making and whether it is paying them too much for some types of apprenticeship.”

The PAC report also calls for a structural review of the NAS and Skills Funding Agency (SFA) to ensure there is “minimal duplication” in their responsibilities

“The relationship between the NAS and SFA remains unclear,” the report reads.

“The way in which the two bodies interact, and the question of who is responsible and accountable for what, still needs to be clarified.

“This will be particularly important to settle during 2012, given the Department needs to appoint new permanent chief executives in each body.”

The skills minister, speaking at an evidence session held by the BIS Select Committee for their inquiry into apprenticeships last week, admitted there was “an argument for changing the way the SFA is structured.”

“No government gets all these things right and I remember when we were in opposition looking at the SFA and the NAS, talking about whether that was the right structure and whether the existing arrangements with the SFA, where it’s an external body – not a permanent body – was right,” Mr Hayes told the Committee.

“I’ve increasingly come to the view that we need to bring that more in-house…and we’re looking very closely at that now.”