The Sub-Committee on Education, Skills and the Economy has launched an inquiry that will look at the merits of government apprenticeship reforms. Neil Carmichael and Iain Wright explain what it will be focusing on and why they keen to collect views from people across the sector.

As a nation, we need to do more to equip our young people with the skills to compete in a modern economy.

Apprenticeships have an incredibly important part to play in achieving this goal and, as chairs of the Education and Business Committees, we are committed to playing a constructive role in helping Government to drive up the numbers of young people earning technical qualifications which are of good quality.

The Government has embarked on a number of reforms affecting apprenticeships.

But there remains considerable uncertainty about how the apprenticeship system is going to work in the future. This makes it an opportune time for the committee on Education, Skills, and the Economy, to examine these matters.

The Government is committed to a target of 3m apprentices by 2020. As part of our inquiry, we shall be examining what the Government is doing to support the delivery of this target.

There is a genuine risk that training schemes will be rebadged to ensure the 3m target is met

While we welcome the Government’s commitment to boost the numbers of apprenticeships, the apparent lack of consultation with industry in setting the 3m target is worrying.

Given that industry will largely be responsible for delivering on this target, the issue of industry engagement on, and rationale for, the 3m target will certainly be an area of interest for our inquiry.

Boosting the numbers of people going into apprenticeships is vital but we also need to create a system which delivers with the very best standards in technical qualifications.

In a recent report, Ofsted said some learners on low-level, low-quality programmes were unaware that they were even on an apprenticeship and asked if these apprenticeships were really worthy of the name.

There is a genuine risk that training schemes will be rebadged and that apprenticeships will be watered down to ensure the 3m target is met.

As part of this inquiry we will want to examine issues around the quality of, and minimum standards for, apprenticeships, and how these standards can be enforced.

The Government has said it will establish an Institute for Apprenticeships which will be a “new employer-led body to set apprenticeship standards and ensure quality”.

Skills Minister Nick Boles has been keen to stress that the new body will be very much at arm’s length from the Government, but precisely what role the institute will play is not yet clear.

Employers and providers will have concerns about the move away from frameworks and as a committee we shall be examining how the new body will operate and how it fits within the wider education and training landscape.

The Government’s proposed apprenticeship levy is another area in need of urgent scrutiny.

There is still a distinct lack of detail on how the levy is going to be implemented and we shall be asking questions of ministers and hearing from industry and stakeholders about their views on the levy.

For businesses, colleges and students to have little idea of how the apprenticeship system is going to work in the future is hardly an ideal model on which to both increase the numbers of apprenticeships and to ensure that we have good quality technical qualifications.

Apprenticeships can provide valuable technical qualifications and a wonderful and exciting introduction to the work-place.

However, evidence from our careers advice inquiry so far suggests apprenticeships are not being well promoted by schools.

Colleges, for their part, often provide an important interface between business and education.

While Nick Boles has said it is not Government policy to “somehow drive people into” apprenticeships, we consider it vitally important that greater efforts are made to provide information about apprenticeships and encourage people, especially young people, to pursue this route if it suits them best.

The FE sector has an important role to play in helping to deliver good-quality apprenticeships and we are keen to hear your views, ideally before the written evidence deadline on Friday, March 18.

Visit http://www.parliament.uk/education-skills-and-economy to find out more.