Adult apprenticeships must take at least 12 months to complete from August this year, the skills minister has announced.
If an apprentice aged 19 or above has prior learning or attainment however, there will be an absolute minimum of six months for achieving a framework.
John Hayes MP, minister of state for further education, skills and lifelong learning, made the announcement on Sunday as part of major reforms to improve the quality of the apprenticeship programme.
“We must be relentless in our drive to ensure all apprenticeships are as good as the best, to identify and root out any instances of poor quality provision, and to raise the bar on standards,” Mr Hayes said.
“We are taking strong and decisive action to tackle short duration so all apprentices receive high quality training and workplace learning setting them on the road to a long, rewarding career.”
Apprenticeships for 16 to 18 year-olds will also need to last a minimum of 12 months following a similar announcement by Mr Hayes in the House of Commons last December.
“The momentum we have created by building the apprenticeship brand has brought about unprecedented success for the apprenticeship programme,” Mr Hayes said.
“The majority of apprenticeships are the gold standard in vocational training.
“They boost individuals’ life chances and build the skills that drive growth.”
The new length of delivery will be introduced following consultation with providers and employers.
There have been real concerns that the apprenticeship brand, which has long been cherished as the gold standard in vocational education, is at risk of being undermined with a spike in short-duration apprenticeships
The Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) say they are disappointed with the announcement and will be using the consultation to ask the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) if short duration training can be funded through the Adult Skills Budget.
An AELP spokesperson said: “AELP has long been opposed in principle to any imposition of minimum course durations for apprenticeships, so the BIS announcement is a disappointment although the substance of it is obviously much more palatable than the top line in the BIS release.
“We will be using the consultation to seek reassurance that any valuable training that takes place within the 6 month period will attract funding from the flexible Adult Skills Budget.”
David Way, the new interim chief executive of the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS), says the new minimum duration will help reassure the sector about the quality of the apprenticeship programme.
“We need to ensure that all apprenticeships are high quality,” Mr Way said.
“By ensuring they last between one and four years, we are not only giving employers what they say they want but also giving confidence back to everyone who has questioned the growth in shorter apprenticeships.”
Training providers who want an adult apprentice to complete in less than 12 months will need to claim a reduced amount of funding and ensure all prior learning is recorded.
“We listened very carefully to messages from colleges and training providers at the National Quality Conference last week,” Mr Way added.
“A clear expectation has been set that an apprenticeship involves a significant amount of new learning delivered over sufficient time to practice and master skills in employment.
“There is greater flexibility here than for younger apprentices because older apprentices typically have more skills they have acquired.”
The minimum duration for adult apprenticeships follows concerns about short duration programmes, some delivered in as little as 12 weeks, by private training providers.
Duration is only one part of a complex set of issues. The quality of the experience for the apprentice and the employer, and the impact it has for both of them, is critical.
Gordon Marsden MP, shadow minister for further education, skills and regional growth, said: “There have been real concerns that the apprenticeship brand, which has long been cherished as the gold standard in vocational education, is at risk of being undermined with a spike in short-duration apprenticeships, a lack of new opportunities in traditional areas such as construction and engineering and worries that in-work training has often been re-labelled as apprenticeships under the Tory-led Government.”
Mr Marsden says the Labour party has put pressure on the coalition government and “succeeded in getting ministers to change their minds” about the minimum duration of adult apprenticeships.
“The Government now needs to work closely with all involved in the sector to ensure quality provision can continue and is supported under these new proposals,” Mr Marsden added.
“With more than one million unemployed young people, now more than ever we need an apprenticeship system that can provide opportunities and get people into work.”
The National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) has welcomed the government’s emphasis on quality, but says more can be done to improve the programme both for learners and businesses.
David Hughes, chief executive of NIACE, said: “Duration is only one part of a complex set of issues.
“The quality of the experience for the apprentice and the employer, and the impact it has for both of them, is critical.
“The best employers use apprenticeships as part of their wider workforce development strategy and the apprenticeship is just the beginning of a career of lifelong learning opportunities for the employee.”