Government rejects calls for employers to face Magistrates for running ‘in-house’ apprenticeships in less than 12 months

The government has rejected calls to make employers subject to proposed new laws aimed at preventing “misuse” of the apprenticeship brand and will continue to allow such ‘in-house’ programmes to take less than a year, it was revealed today.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) in July put forward plans to outlaw providers using the term ‘apprenticeship’ or ‘apprentice’ for any course or training in England that does not meet the same rules that apply to the government-funded programme.

Its three-week consultation on the proposals ended on August 19 and drew more than 90 responses, a number of which called for the proposals to also cover employers offering their own ‘apprenticeships’ without government funding.

Such employers had been exempted under the proposals and even firms running internal ‘apprenticeship’ programmes with government funding not specifically for the official scheme were outside the plans.

But today’s government response to the consultation rejected calls to make these employers, unlike providers, subject to the same rules that apply to providers and employers running BIS-funded apprenticeships — such as the 12-month minimum duration.

“While the government has considered expanding this measure to employers it feels that the potential costs of doing so would outweigh the benefits,” it says in the BIS 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.”

Courses can currently be marketed as apprenticeships despite either not being funded by the government, or being government-funded under a different programme. Such courses do not have to meet strict rules that apply to government-funded apprenticeships, like the minimum duration. The government is happy to let employers continue doing this, but wants providers to stop.

And so providers who run courses labelled as apprenticeships that do not meet BIS rules on the official programme will face the shame of an appearance at the local Magistrates’ Court along with a fine under the new rules.

In its response, the government said: “It is our current intention that the local weights and measure authorities will enforce the offence. The Secretary of State, or others with the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions, may also take enforcement action.”

It added: “We have considered a number of other options as an alternative to legislating (for instance trademarking the apprenticeship brand). On balance, we did not consider that these would be sufficiently effective in addressing the risk of other training programmes being misrepresented as high-quality apprenticeships.”

However, “the majority of responses were supportive of the aims of the legislation,” according to the 13-page response document, which said the new rules would be appearing in the Enterprise Bill.

But it was also revealed that around 60 per cent of respondents (82 in total responded) to one of the questions said there would be unintended legal consequences as a result of implementing the new rules.

“One respondent was concerned that those employers that run their own non government-funded apprenticeships would be affected and would have to change the format and content of their existing training programmes,” it said in the response.

“The government recognises that many of these in-house schemes are of a high quality and does not wish to prohibit employers from this practice which is why we are proposing to only including training providers in the scope of this legislation.”

It added: “A couple of respondents raised the issue of how the proposed legislation would work alongside the new apprenticeship levy. The government launched a consultation about the levy on August 21, 2015, which closes on October 2 and will consider this issue further as the levy proposals are developed following the consultation.”

There was also concern over providers using the label ‘pre-apprentice’ to describe non-apprenticeship training in a bid to attract young people.

In response, the government said: “The provider will be able to state that the training could lead to an apprenticeship provided that it is clear that what is on offer at that stage is not an apprenticeship itself.”

A supplementary cost analysis states that, “the government estimated the cost to businesses of complying with the legislation to be no more than £0.11m”.

It adds: “Lost profit due to restricting previous marketing strategies estimated to be negligible.”

Skills Minister Nick Boles said: “Everyone knows what a university degree means. It’s an official title. Young people doing apprenticeships should get the same level of distinction.

“I’m supporting working people by defining the word ‘apprenticeship’ in law. This will ensure people get the best training and opportunities.”

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