A period of reflection is now needed

Apprenticeships, apprenticeships, apprenticeships — after three inquiries, incorporating a host of government recommendations, it’s time to take a breather, says David Way

Doug Richard’s report has been eagerly anticipated not least because its advice on the future of apprenticeships comes from the perspective of a businessman without the detailed knowledge or ‘baggage’ of an insider to the skills system — as the author himself acknowledges.

His independent review was intended to bring fresh insights and to propose some exciting possibilities for the future. It’s been generally welcomed, although a formal, considered response will come from government in the spring.

It picks up a number of themes already prevalent within current skills and apprenticeship policy aspirations, and resonates with recent speeches by ministers at conferences by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and the Association of Colleges (AoC).

These include ensuring employers are always centre stage and that apprenticeship standards are consistently high.

FE Minister Matthew Hancock has made it clear that high quality is as much a priority as growth in numbers. Expectations of apprenticeship quality and minimum duration have been made clearer – and more demanding – in the past year.

The review rightly says that we can go further to ensure that they demonstrate the degree of rigour that is vital for employer and individual confidence.

For example, we know that overseas experience shows independent end testing drives higher standards.

Mr Richard reminds us that for apprenticeships to help to fuel growth and support the economy, employers must be in the driving seat.

This echoes the important work of the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the Department for Education in employer ownership pilots, and follows Jason Holt’s proposals to make apprenticeships more accessible to small and medium-sized enterprises.

We are continuing to work closely with Mr Holt, including offering a tailored service to businesses, streamlining the process of taking on apprentices and setting out clear standards for the service that we and apprenticeship training providers will give.

There is much in the Richard Review that will stimulate fresh thinking”

One of the most far-reaching recommendations relates to how we ensure that purchasing power rests more surely with the employer.

While there is much to consider in how this might be implemented, it would potentially help to make more transparent the scale and purpose of the government contribution.

I am always mindful of the message from employers that they want to be clear about future arrangements so that they can be confident in how they engage and invest — a message underlined at the recent CBI conference.

After Holt and the BIS Select Committee inquiry, Richard adds to a significant body of advice to government. We now need a period of reflection and discussion so that employers and apprentices can be confident of the future direction and the support that is available to them.

When Mr Hancock and I attended a recent celebration event for HSBC’s graduate apprentices, I was reminded that there is much that is good about apprenticeships, with more and more employers opening up or expanding programmes and with satisfaction levels high.

However, building confidence in apprenticeships and supporting the drive for skills that fuel economic growth means that we must constantly raise awareness and standards.

There is much in the Richard Review that will stimulate fresh thinking about apprenticeships. I look forward to discussions about how we can achieve real improvements, building on the very best of current apprenticeships.

David Way is the chief executive of the
National Apprenticeship Service

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