A leading think-tank has voiced concerns that the government’s apprenticeships reforms could be hurting young people’s job prospects.
In a new report published today, the Institute for Public Policy Research said that the decision to ditch a requirement for apprenticeships to include a recognised qualification could “harm young people who will need transferable qualifications in an increasingly flexible jobs market”.
The IPPR’s report, ‘England’s apprenticeships – assessing the new system’, called on the government to consider reintroducing a nationally recognised qualification as a part of all apprenticeships.
But this concern did not appear to be addressed by the Department for Education when FE Week asked for a response – despite social mobility being high up on the new prime minister’s agenda.
The move from frameworks, which do include formal qualifications, to standards, which only require an end-point assessment and don’t require a formal qualification, is a key part of the government’s apprenticeship reforms.
In today’s report, the IPPR report said that standards “work well in sectors of the labour market that consist of large employers who share a strong sense of occupational identity and are committed to training their future workforce” but less well in other sectors.
The report highlighted concerns that in sectors without larger employers or professional bodies involved in developing standards, employers could simply “rebadge as much existing and job-specific training as possible into an apprenticeship” – rather than providing apprentices with the skills they need to further their careers.
Today’s report cited an example of a level 2 retailer apprenticeship, which it said had been developed with no involvement from a professional body and was designed so that companies could tailor it to their own needs.
It said: “It is not clear how much more an apprentice in retail would learn than someone who was simply starting out in their first job in retail, and the only advantage for an apprentice is that they receive a confirmation that they have passed their apprenticeship after the independent assessment.”
Jonathan Clifton, IPPR’s Associate Director for Public Services, said: “England is in danger of introducing an apprenticeship system that would work well in the economy of the 1960s, but is not fit for a 21st-century workforce.
“We need to create an apprenticeship system that works in a jobs market that is increasingly characterised by small firms, service sector jobs and flexible working.”
When FE Week asked the Department for Education if it shared the IPPR’s concerns, a spokesperson said: “Apprenticeships give young people a real ladder of opportunity and the chance to earn a wage while learning the skills for a rewarding career.
“Our reforms are focused on driving up standards with more employer involvement, quality assurance by the new Institute for Apprenticeships and independent third party assessments at the end of the course to ensure they are high quality, and that students are learning the skills employers want.”
Mark Dawe, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, echoed the IPPR’s call.
He said: “The government should place a pause on standards development and conduct a full review of what the best model is.
“In the interests of the apprentice, qualifications within the standard should be mandatory and consultation on the final draft should be better.”