David Hughes outlines his hopes for a new Apprentice Charter

There are many uncertainties surrounding the general election, but one thing we can be sure of is that the next Government will support more apprenticeships.

That support will almost certainly survive any permutation of parties entering into coalition (or minority Government) negotiations, probably unlike some other manifesto commitments.

I spoke at the FE Week apprenticeship conference this month about the dangerous place the apprenticeship programme is in at the moment and the need for us to focus on three things — defining what an apprenticeship is and what it contributes for the apprentice themselves, for the employer and for the Government; the quality of the experience and how we measure success; and, really getting to grips with inequalities in access and achievement to apprenticeships.

These issues contribute to the other big issue we have to face up to — how to get more employers, parents, teachers and careers advisers to value apprenticeships. We are still a long way from convincing enough people that an apprenticeship will be a good investment for them as they enter the labour market.

This is not the same for degrees where the presumption seems to be prevalent from many that any degree will be a good investment.

Convincing people to change their views is not easy of course, and there is no silver bullet. Improvements in defining the experience, quality and access will help, but they will not be sufficient on their own.

At Niace we are convinced that we have a concept which will help and we’re keen to engage with the sector, employers, apprentices and others to develop our idea into a workable proposition. We call it the Apprentice Charter and it is a simple idea which is already capturing people’s imaginations.

The Apprentice Charter is a new quality mark which would be awarded to employers that demonstrate a commitment to give their apprentices a high quality learning experience which will set them up for a career.

The quality of the apprenticeship experience will become more and more consistent and positive, without the need for centralized, top-down Government intervention

The employers we have spoken to are attracted to an independent quality mark which can help them show that they are doing the right thing, that they take seriously the investment they are making in their apprentices.

As well as differentiating employers offering apprenticeships, we believe that an Apprentice Charter can help achieve a number of other things. It will codify and set a new standard for what the best employers do in addition to the formal training and the employment contract.

This includes the informal learning, the soft skills, the mentoring, the support, the advice about future careers and the opportunities to understand the business and not just the job. For prospective apprentices and their families and advisers, it will be a simple guarantee that the experience is worth their investment, enabling them to make informed choices about how to make the transition into work.

It will stimulate demand from people who want the chance to enter the labour market and progress into a career, giving a strong alternative to the well-trodden higher education path, particularly for young people.

The Apprentice Charter will help the Government to be confident in the quality of the programme and allow them to target support to those employers who want to aspire to achieving the quality mark. In this way, the quality of the apprenticeship experience will become more and more consistent and positive, without the need for centralized, top-down Government intervention.

We are now keen to engage with stakeholders in developing the concept. We want employers, providers, colleges, apprentices and others to work with us to scope out how this will work. The next Government will want to improve quality at the same time as increasing numbers, our Apprentice Charter will help ensure that the experience for apprentices and the return on investment for employers matches up to the strong political support which apprenticeships now have.

Please get involved and help us develop the concept into reality.