IPPR are wrong – employers do want to give 16-18-year-olds apprenticeships. The real problem is that schools won’t promote them and government won’t fund them, says Mark Dawe.

A report has been published by an influential think tank that attempts to influence ministers based on a false premise: i.e. employers aren’t interested in offering 16- to 18-year-olds apprenticeship opportunities. This has been presented in Earning and Learning, the latest report from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), as a reason for doing away with the programme altogether for this age group and replacing it with a predominantly classroom-based pre-apprenticeship programme.

So let’s have a look at the hard data. It is true that the worst economic recession since the war had a negative impact on 16- to 18-year-old apprentice recruitment, but this was temporary. Businesses did look for young people with more work experience for a couple of years, but the number of apprenticeship starts recovered in 2014-15 (to 125,900) and, based on the first nine months’ figures available for 2015-16, we would expect that number to increase again this year. To add to that, employers are currently advertising over 25,000 vacancies on the Find an Apprenticeship website, with the vast majority open to the youngest age group, after legal requirements are taken into consideration.

Combine these numbers and you will really struggle to maintain that employers aren’t interested. However, the reforms mean that from next April, apprenticeships will be the only Department for Education 16-18 education and training programme not completely funded by the government when, in our view, employers should be fully subsidised for taking on these young apprentices.

What privileged and narrow world do these commentators come from?

No, the problem is not employers but the need to make more young people aware of the apprenticeship opportunities available, and not allowing them to be persuaded that apprenticeships are the wrong choice even before they have had the chance to consider all of their options. Neil Carmichael and his committee of MPs have regularly covered the issues surrounding poor careers advice in many of our schools and I’ve written about them in the next edition of FE Week.

The IPPR report further argues that apprenticeships suffer from a lack of progression at level 2. In the past it has been a challenge to persuade employers to move their successful apprentices up further levels but again, this is rapidly becoming out of date when you look at the recent increased take-up of apprenticeships at higher and degree levels. Judging by conversations between providers and large employers planning for the levy’s start, we can anticipate a further boost in numbers at level 4 and above. Part of the problem is the frameworks or standards just did not exist; again, this is being dealt with.

AELP agrees with the IPPR that there is much to commend in the Sainsbury review but neither the review nor the government’s accompanying Skills Plan recommended the abandoning of 16-18 apprenticeships or the introduction of a new pre-apprenticeship programme, when we already have traineeships. They probably recognised that for young people who have been disengaged and demotivated at school, it is not a good idea to force them into a classroom for another two years.

Many industries need and want a level 2 starting point and therefore it would be a denial of social justice to disallow a 16-year-old the opportunity to gain knowledge and proper experience of work. Moreover, due to failings in the schools system, many 16-year-olds need to start at level 2 yet some opinion-formers seem bent on punishing them further. Some even argue that there are no skills developed moving from entry level or level 1 through to level 2. What privileged and narrow world do these commentators come from?

We should be debating what is in the best interests of young people based on evidence rather than institutionally-biased proposals. Brexit and likely controls on migration also mean that it would be madness to starve employers of young people who can earn while they learn. Instead we need to get on with implementing what has already been proposed by the government.


Mark Dawe is chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers

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  1. Jo Fowler

    Having delivered, managed and employed apprentices across multiple frameworks, from experience, the vast majority have benefitted from a years worth of vocational training prior to taking the step to employment. The step up to full level 2 in a new subject is daunting for many – add into that the pressures of the work place for an additional 30 hours is simply too much, hence a national average of 30% drop out. The report mirrors my long held views

  2. Having worked specifically with the recruitment of 16-18 year old apprentices for several years now I believe the way schools are financed is at the heart of the issues facing employers. The primary win-win here must rest with the employer and the apprentice. If they are right for each other, there’s every chance of success. However schools are systematically failing to prepare and provide people in this age range.

    First of all, schools don’t want to release students until after sixth form if possible as they get more finance this way. Also, the clamour for low maintenance students that can be developed towards university and a better place in the league tables is a hinderance. I was speaking with a Head of Sixth in one of the schools I work in yesterday who stated that they’re moving towards a ‘tell’ style of education which goes against the employers’ requirements of people who can think for themselves.

    The real question is who are the schools here to serve: Themselves or our children?…