The chancellor’s “returnerships” scheme has been slammed as “all spin and no substance” after the government confirmed it will only be a marketing brand to signpost older workers to existing courses.
Jeremy Hunt told the House of Commons during Wednesday’s budget that education secretary Gillian Keegan “will introduce a new kind of apprenticeship targeted at the over-50s who want to return to work”.
“They will be called returnerships, an offering alongside skills bootcamps and sector-based work academies,” he added.
However, Treasury documents indicated that rather than offering a new course, “returnerships will promote accelerated apprenticeships, sector-based work academy programme (SWAP) placements and skills bootcamps” – programmes which have been available for years.
The Department for Education confirmed to FE Week that “returnerships” will simply be the term used, through its Skills for Life marketing campaign, to encourage over-50s to take up existing courses.
Accelerated apprenticeships are shorter (by at least three months) than the typical duration of the standard, based on the apprentice’s prior learning. Minimum requirements of an apprenticeship must still be met, including the legal 12-month minimum duration rule.
Skills bootcamps offer free, flexible courses of up to 16 weeks with a job interview at the end, while SWAPs are administered by Jobcentre Plus and involve pre-employment training, a guaranteed job interview and a work placement to help prepare those receiving unemployment benefits for new jobs.
Shadow minster for further education and skills Toby Perkins said: “The government’s announcement on ‘returnerships’ is typical of their approach to skills: it’s all spin and no substance.
“Our country needs a coherent, joined-up skills system which enables all individuals to make the best use of their talents.”
Jane Hickie, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, added: “Ultimately, we’re disappointed at the lack of detailed plan to meet the chancellor’s aim to get more people back into work and achieve the stated aim of skills being the catalyst for economic growth.
“If the government are serious about supporting more over-50s and those in receipt of universal credit back into work, this will need significantly more investment in skills training.
“A rebranding and promotion of accelerated apprenticeship under the guise of ‘returnerships’ won’t cut it. If this is a budget for growth, it’s a budget for growth without skills.”