Ann Watson on why EAL backs the Richard Review’s proposal to use tax breaks to encourage employers to take on apprentices 

Certain issues surrounding apprenticeships are brought up time and again by government, employers, training providers, awarding organisations and apprentices themselves.

The Richard Review is the latest to highlight the benefits of the vocational pathway and the need for rigorous, high quality training equal to a university education.

One of the review’s key recommendations is the use of National Insurance or tax breaks to encourage employers, who may not have considered the option, to take on apprentices.

It’s an idea that EAL has backed before. Such a policy would especially help small and medium-sized enterprises.

However, all businesses should be encouraged to provide alternative opportunities for young people.

This is especially significant in times of high unemployment, when more graduates are chasing fewer employment opportunities and when the rising cost of university education leaves more graduates with record debt.

Government support through tax incentives would send a strong signal to employers, schools, students and parents that an apprenticeship is an equally valuable choice to a degree. As Richard states, it is “inappropriate for it to be viewed as a lower-status alternative”.

Apprenticeship numbers are at record levels so we must ensure that quality is maintained.

Using an apprenticeship funding system pegged to the tax system would hopefully help to ensure rigorous, quality training is being funded centrally, thereby protecting and enhancing the apprenticeships brand.

Independent assessment is also key.

Apprenticeship numbers are at record levels so we must ensure that quality is maintained”

Awarding organisations such as EAL provide a vital role in the accreditation and recognition of industry qualifications and standards, ensuring apprentices gain awards that employers can rely on.

We have consistently advocated the importance of independent assessment — we are the only specialist awarding organisation to employ full-time technical specialists as external verifiers to support employers and learning providers to uphold standards.

It is innovative approaches such as this that ensure standards are at the heart of every apprenticeship and that employers can trust that their new workers are competent.

Combining high quality training with rigorous independent assessment alongside the right incentives for businesses will lead to greater opportunities for young people to access a highly skilled, fulfilling career.

Employers should be at the heart of this, investing in apprenticeships that they can rely on, but government should also contribute to the cost in a simple, accessible way that does not discourage small and medium sized enterprises from participating.

Apprenticeships are vital for bringing down the numbers of young people who are not in education, employment or training, as well as meeting skills gaps in sectors such as manufacturing and engineering that are central to economic recovery.

Businesses of all sizes need to be encouraged and helped to participate, and perceptions of apprenticeships need to change among teachers, careers advisers, parents and young people themselves.

The recommendations made in the Richard Review are a step in this direction.

Ann Watson is the managing director of EAL
(Excellence, Achievement and Learning),
the specialist awarding organisation
for industry qualifications