Clampdown on apprenticeship misuse ‘affects very few’, says AELP

A much-hyped government clampdown on “misuse” of the apprenticeship term will only affect a “very few” cases, the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) has warned.

It was a view echoed by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), which urged the government to instead “focus on driving up the quality of apprenticeships”.

New rules contained in the Enterprise Bill will stop providers using the apprenticeship name for courses that do not meet the same criteria laid down for government-funded apprenticeships — such as a 12-month minimum duration.

However, employers running ‘in-house’ apprenticeships will continue to be allowed to ignore the rules, despite the government having been urged to rethink its plans in a three-week consultation that ended on August 19.

And Stewart Segal (pictured), AELP chief executive, told of the limited effect the new rules will have — echoing the government’s own impact assessment of the new rules, which said there was “little evidence to suggest that the existing scale of misuse of the term ‘apprenticeship’ is widespread”.

Mr Segal said: “We support initiatives to improve the quality of the apprenticeship programme but we do not believe that the misuse of the term is a major issue.

“The exemption of employers from the Bill may cause some confusion, so we have recommended that the apprenticeship brand developed by the government is protected rather than the general term which can now be used by employers.”

And the CBI response said: “We have seen little evidence that the terms “apprenticeship” or “apprentice” are being misused — and have received no feedback from businesses that this is a genuine cause for concern.

“Legislation should always be a last resort and, without a solid evidence base, we do not believe that the case for new legislation has been made. Instead, government should focus on driving up the quality of apprenticeships and ensure that the reforms are working.”

The Association of Colleges (AoC) meanwhile, told the government, in its response, that it would “not support” moves to let employers who run in-house, non-statutory, apprenticeships use the proposed large employer levy or any other “government funding to support this training”.

“It would be useful if Government could set out what it will do if non-statutory employer programmes, badged as ‘apprenticeships’, appear to be having a detrimental impact on the brand,” it added.

The government is introducing the new rules as part of its commitment to create 3m new apprenticeships in this Parliament. It is hoping to stop unfunded providers who ignore official apprenticeship rules, such as the minimum duration, benefitting from the increased promotion of the programme. It is also hoping to stop the brand being “diluted” and having a negative impact on growth of statutory apprenticeships.

However, its response to the consultation was published on Monday, September 21, and it revealed how calls to make employers also subject to the new rules — which carry the threat of a Magistrates Court appearance — had been rejected.

“While the government has considered expanding this measure to employers it feels that the potential costs of doing so would outweigh the benefits,” it said in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills response document.

“There are many employers that offer high-quality apprenticeships of their own and we do not want to prohibit this practice, nor do we want to put in place any measures that could be perceived as burdensome or put off employers from offering apprenticeships.”

Targets for Public Sector Apprentices

Government plans to introduce a target for the number of apprentices in public sector bodies, to help it meet its goal to deliver 3m new apprenticeships by 2020.

The target is one of the measures included in the Enterprise Bill, along with proposals to prevent misuse of the term “apprenticeship”.

The bill contains measures to “provide a power for the Secretary of State to set targets for public sector bodies in relation to the number of apprentices they employ in England” and to “require the public to have due regard to any targets set on them and to report annually on progress against meeting those targets”.

These measures are intended to apply to most public sector bodies with more than 250 employees. There is no detail yet of what the targets will be.

To protect the term “apprenticeship” from misuse, the bill includes a measure to “create an offence for a person, in the course of business, to provide or offer a course or training as an apprenticeship if it is not a statutory apprenticeship” and to exclude employers by ensuring they “cannot commit the offence in relation to their employees”.

The maximum intended penalty for committing the offence is a fine.

The Enterprise Bill was introduced by Business Secretary Sajid Javid in May. It is due to have its second reading in the House of Lords on October 12.

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