Apprenticeships: new year, new agenda

Apprenticeships made the news time and again in 2012 with a host of reviews. Graham Hoyle, from the AELP, explains what he thinks should be on the apprenticeship agenda for 2013.

As ministers consider the direction they intend to travel following the various reviews of apprenticeships that took place in 2012, it is worth doing a stocktake on where we are on the flagship skills programme so vital in supporting a sustainable economic recovery.

Apprenticeships are assuming an almost unprecedented profile for modern times, even if a university-educated national media may only now be starting to take notice because the increases in HE tuition fees mean more young people with good exam results are looking at apprenticeships as an alternative path to a high-earning career.

Last year’s apprenticeship reviews had some common threads.

We were pleased that while there was an understandable recommendation government funding should support apprenticeships for young people as a priority, improving the skills of existing adult members of the workforce through apprenticeships was recognised as an important element of the programme’s future.

Against the backdrop of the UKCES employer ownership pilots, both Jason Holt and Doug Richard were clearly very sympathetic to the idea that more funding should flow directly to employers, but they recognised this did not necessarily represent a panacea for increased business engagement with apprenticeships, particularly in respect of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

The Holt review acknowledged that training providers play a key role in ‘selling’ apprenticeships to smaller companies and in our view, the current funding system helps to encourage this.

We remain concerned that some of the proposed major changes in funding routes for apprenticeships could see a reduction in SME take-up rather than the increase that everyone seeks. A change that might work could be an arrangement whereby vouchers are handed to SMEs to help them purchase apprenticeship training provision from quality assured providers.

The government has said again it was committed to introducing traineeships for young people as a route to apprenticeships or other sustainable jobs.

This would be a very positive step, especially if it was also accompanied by fundamental change in the way schoolchildren receive advice about the vocational learning options available to them from the age of 16.

It must remain a priority to ensure young people attain the required levels of English and maths before they leave school rather than have to undertake remedial work during a traineeship.

We still believe schools should be subject to a degree of output-related funding to ensure this critical objective is achieved in 90 per cent of cases.

Last month’s BIS Skills Funding Statement 2012-15 projected a welcome increase in 19+ apprenticeships to 681,000 by 2014-15 accompanied by a modest increase in funding.

Training providers play a key role in ‘selling’ apprenticeships”

However, the need to spend increased amounts of scarce resources on remedial functional skills English and maths activities (because of the failure of schools) is already restricting the number of apprenticeships that can be provided by AELP members, despite having clear evidence of employer demand and apprenticeship growth remaining a clear ministerial priority.

This makes it even more important that the Skills Funding Agency takes full advantage of its in-year reallocation funding powers to reward good performing providers by reallocating funds from underperforming providers of all types to make the system genuinely demand-led.

My members will also take more notice of government mid-term review statements on employer responsiveness if they believe
that the adult skills budget is going to be allocated in full to providers that actually deliver training.

Finally, and remaining positive, we must applaud the continuing high priority governmental support for apprenticeships at all levels as a critical ingredient of the government’s long-term economic growth policy.

Also to be welcomed with real anticipation is the development of an all-embracing, flexible and personalised traineeship programme that will afford expert providers the opportunity to better prepare many in the NEET group to gain sustainable employment.

Graham Hoyle OBE, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP)

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