Apprenticeship target in Queen’s Speech draws ‘to-ing and fro-ing’ warning on reforms

The government has been warned about “to-ing and fro-ing” on apprenticeships policy after a Queen’s Speech today in which the programme was given a target of 2m starts in England.

The annual speech sets out what the government’s priorities will be for the next term of parliament and this year apprenticeships featured just a week after the government revealed employers would be paying out a third of the training costs in future.

The Queen said: “My government will continue to deliver the best schools and skills for young people. My government will increase the total number of apprenticeship places to 2m by the end of the Parliament.”

The speech drew a swift response from Chris Jones, chief executive of the City & Guilds Group.

He said: “If we really want apprenticeships to be seen as a credible and valuable route to a career, we desperately need to see stability in the system. Too much to-ing and fro-ing on the policy around apprenticeships only serves to confuse people.

“We know businesses can benefit from taking on apprentices, particularly with ever-increasing skills gaps but things keep changing around apprenticeship policy.

“For employers and young people alike this only causes confusion. We should be making the system easier to navigate, not harder. We need a strong, stable, consistent system that meets the needs of young people, employers, and our economy.”

Guidance notes issued following the Queen’s Speech confirmed that she had been referring to the government’s target to have had 2m apprenticeship starts over the course of the Parliament.

According to figures from the government’s FE Data Library, the current total of apprenticeship starts from the beginning of the academic year 2010/11, after the current government was elected, stands at just under 1.6m.

Skills Minister Matthew Hancock responded to the speech on Twitter saying: “I’ve got my marching orders from HM Queen ‘My Government will increase the number of apprentices to 2 million by the end of this Parliament’.”

The guidance notes also outlined the government’s plans to route apprenticeship funding through employers and require a 33 per cent cash contribution from them, as outlined in FE Week last week . The guidance added: “We are also planning to route funding for apprenticeship training through employers in the future, to give them greater control and purchasing power over apprenticeship training.

“Requiring genuine co-investment will ensure employers have a greater stake in guaranteeing that the training provision their apprentices receive is of high quality.”

The Queen further announced measures to crack down on employers who fail to pay their staff the minimum wage — this could have an impact on apprentices, as a report published in October found that in 2012, more than one-in-five apprentices were not being paid the legal minimum of £2.86 an hour.

The Queen said: “Legislation will impose higher penalties on employers who fail to pay their staff the minimum wage.”

The guidance notes expanded on this by saying that parliament intended to “strengthen UK employment law by tackling National Minimum Wage abuses” through the introduction of the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill, due to be put before parliament before the general election in May.