Eleven months down the line and plenty to be done on apprenticeships, says the chair of the BIS Committee, Adrian Bailey
It is fair to say that the past few years have been turbulent for everyone, especially businesses, employees and young people.
It is perhaps timely, then, that in the month when some green shoots of economic growth appear from what has been a long double-dip recession, my committee is publishing a report outlining how, through the apprentice- ship programme, government can help this country up-skill its way through economic recovery.
A highly-skilled workforce is essential to maintaining and enhancing our global competitiveness. Apprenticeships can help create such a workforce, boosting economic growth, employment, education standards and social mobility.
We have made a significant number of recommendations, on how apprenticeships should be improved”
Apprenticeships outdate all of the political parties — they are too important to be used as a political tool. Action, reform and prioriti- sation are needed and I am pleased to see that apprenticeships are, rightfully, high on the government’s agenda.
Skills are what matter, and finding the best way of delivering them is at the heart of my committee’s inquiry.
Our committee spent almost a year inves- tigating what reforms are needed in order to create an apprenticeship programme that is fit for purpose. We considered more than 130 pieces of written evidence, spoke to more than 40 experts, visited several companies and trainers of apprentices and also spoke to apprentices themselves.
We were consistently impressed by the pas- sion and focus shown by all those involved, particularly on the importance of getting this programme right.
We have made a significant number of recommendations, on how the apprenticeship programme should be improved. It is now the government’s job to respond to this report.
Overall, we support the significant increase in apprenticeships, but this has not always been matched by an increase in quality — the purpose of an apprenticeship has been lost.
The government needs to better articulate its strategy for apprenticeships and a good place to start would be by providing a clear definition of what an apprenticeship is. While we welcome the expansion in apprenticeship starts, the success of the apprenticeship programme should not be judged by numbers alone.
At present, the National Apprenticeship Service’s objectives are too heavily weighted on numbers. In the future, the quality of the programme should be seen as an equal priority, and should be assessed rigorously.
One of the most striking moments in our inquiry came when we spoke to an apprentice in Sheffield who told us that, when he decided to turn down his university offers and take up an apprenticeship, his school didn’t even invite him to the school’s awards ceremony. Not going to university was seen as a failure. Sadly this was not a lone example.
Time and again, we found that the underly- ing assumption was that vocational training is only for those unable to take an academic route. This is wrong and must be changed. That is why we recommended that both routes should be given equal prominence in careers advice and that this should be imple- mented in law.
Whenever the government invests, it has to demonstrate that it has achieved value for money. Up to now, the government’s perfor- mance in this regard has been patchy at best.
We have heard of specific examples where training providers claim to have trained ap- prentices for only 50 per cent of the required funding, to undercut their competitors.
We have also heard that some training providers have made a fortune because the government didn’t understand what it was paying for.
The Department has acknowledged that there is insufficient data and we say that this needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency. The Select Committee backs the govern- ment in its drive to increase the number of apprenticeships. Enhancing skills and boost- ing employment is not only a good thing for a government to do, it is vital.
By implementing the recommendations made by our committee, the government’s apprenticeship programme will be defined by transparency, quality and success. Only then, can apprenticeships play their full role in securing our country’s place in the global economy for years to come.
Adrian Bailey MP, chair of the BIS Select Committee