'Quantity over quality' warning over Labour apprenticeship pledges

Ed Miliband’s apprenticeship pledges should be welcomed, but risk prioritising quantity over quality, FE sector leaders have warned.

Association of Employment and Learning Providers chief executive Stewart Segal and 157 Group executive director Lynne Sedgmore both cautiously welcomed the pledges delivered in Mr Miliband’s keynote speech to the Labour Party conference, but raised concerns about delivery.

In his speech, Mr Miliband outlined his vision for a skills system in which the same number of school-leavers become apprentices as go to university.

He said this would be achieved through tougher regulation to force firms to hire apprentices and a renewed focus on apprenticeships for those aged 24 and under.

He said: “Our national goal is that by 2025, as many young people will be leaving school or college to go onto an apprenticeship as currently go to university.

“This is an absolutely huge undertaking. We are such a long way away from this as a country. It’s going to require a massive national effort.”

Dr Sedgmore praised his vision but warned that the quality of apprenticeships needed to be addressed as well as the quantity.

She told FE Week: “The pledges he is making are positive and I am pleased it is so high on his agenda. It’s fantastic that it was one of the main points in his speech.

“So we can do nothing but praise that and welcome it. I think the issue for us is quantity is of course important but so is quality. So we would like to see it backed up very quickly by re-assurances and plans for how the apprenticeship experience remains meaningful and leads on to good, solid, sustainable employment.

“My feeling is I laud his vision, it is powerful. That is a vision of parity of esteem and I laud it, but it has to be equivalent to a world class apprenticeship system, so what we are giving these young people or adults is the best possible experience and it has long-term benefits.”

Mr Segal warned that any legislation to force employers to take on apprentices could be a backwards step.

He said: “It’s great that it’s such a top priority, but we don’t want to fall into the trap of being driven by numbers and by particular routes. It’s important to preserve all the options for young people and that would include self-employment, many young people get jobs which are not an apprenticeship.

“Clearly we would all like to bring structured apprenticeship –type programmes for all young people but we don’t want it to be driven by numbers.

“I don’t think it should be legislation. It’s too complex and there are too many variables to try to determine what employers have to do. But I do think there is a long was to go to encourage employers to run apprenticeships and make it easy.

“There is in my view only one type of effective apprenticeship, and that is with a willing employer, a willing learner and in the vast majority of cases a skilled training provider. I think legislating could create more difficulties.”

Pic: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire