It took the National Apprenticeship Service, and the overarching Skills Funding Agency, three months to act over a 3p rise to £2.68 on the apprentice minimum wage. The rise happened in October, but it took until mid-December before the official online advertising system for apprenticeships was amended so as to only accept adverts at the higher wage. Stephen Gardner discusses the importance of keeping all things apprentice as clear as possible.

Given that apprenticeships should be about learning in the workplace rather than simply earning it is appropriate that there is a rate set for an apprenticeship minimum wage that is below the National Minimum Wage (NMW).

However, it also seems to me that this should be rigorously enforced by the government or those mandated to distribute funding, thereby ensuring that young apprentices are treated fairly by all employers.

Simply saying that the minimum wage should be paid is not enough — it seems the probability of an individual employer receiving a visit from a NMW officer is too low to prove a deterrent.

Apprentices in employment are not in a strong position to complain to their employers, even with the help of their training provider and it would seem appropriate that there should be a means whereby apprentices, or those who know that wages lower than NMW are being paid, can notify the National Apprenticeship Service in confidence.

Once notified, there should be a duty on NAS to investigate and take appropriate action. This should involve liaison with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and, where substantiated, prosecution and remedial action in the form of back payment.

Training providers should also be required to do more to ensure that the employers they contract with do pay the correct amount for all the hours worked.

Technically, only an apprentice paid the NMW is legitimately an apprentice, so the Skills Funding Agency could, in theory, recover any funding paid to a provider for an “apprentice” not in receipt of the NMW.

The first requirement is for the NMW to be widely publicised so that all school leavers and their parents or guardians know what apprentices should be paid.

Simply saying that the minimum wage should be paid is not enough

Careers advisers should be the first source of information — but this assumes that the current arrangement for providing careers advice tells the young people and their parents or guardians about apprenticeships at all.

The recent ruckus about the apprenticeships vacancy area of the NAS website is embarrassing for NAS and damaging to apprenticeships.

It should be a simple matter to ensure that the current NMW is automatically displayed on every appropriate page of the apprenticeship vacancy website, removing the opportunity for anyone to advertise a lower wage and I hope that this is something that NAS is now implementing in light of the recent adverse publicity.

Apprenticeships need to be clearly seen as a three-way investment in skills.

Government invests funding, employers (with the help of training providers) should invest in high class training, and young people invest their time and dedication to learning.

A fair financial contribution to help the apprentice with their living and travel costs during the apprenticeship is essential.

Stephen Gardner, chief executive of
Fair Train