IFS calls for minimum public sector workforce apprenticeship target to be scrapped

The new minimum target for public sector bodies to employ at least 2.3 per cent of their workforce as apprentices should be scrapped, a new report for the Institute for Fiscal Studies has warned.

The key chapter of the of the IFS’s Green Budget, called Reforms to apprenticeship funding in England, reiterated fears that quality could be seriously undermined in the drive for 3 million apprenticeship starts by 2020.

It warned there is a risk that “the focus on targets will distort policy and lead to the inefficient use of public money”.

The report out this morning, funded by The Nuffield Foundation is a charitable trust that “aims to improve social well-being in the widest sense”, warned against repeating mistakes of “recent decades, by encouraging employers and training providers to relabel current activity and seek subsidy rather than seek the best training”.

The government confirmed on January 20 that at least 2.3 per cent of the workforce in most public sector bodies in England will have to be apprentices, in a move requiring that 200,000 more will have to be recruited by 2020.

The target was provisionally aired a year ago, as part of a consultation on how large a role public bodies should play in meeting the government’s overall target of creating 3 million new apprenticeship starts by 2020.

But the IFS report said: “This potentially costly policy is largely designed to hit the government’s target for 3 million new apprentices, not as a way to increase the quality of public services. It should be removed.”

It added this “one-size-fits-all “approach to large public sector employers in England is “clearly not a sensible way to encourage more apprenticeships, or to help deliver efficient public services.”

The government response to their consultation on the 2.3 per cent target, published earlier this  month, described a number of bodies that, despite being defined by the ONS as public sector, will be excluded from the target.

These include the BBC and Channel 4, Post Office, and the Houses of Parliament.

FE Week exclusively revealed last January that any public sector apprenticeship target won’t apply to colleges.

The new report also noted that while there might be a strong case for expanding apprenticeships,

the government had failed to make it.

It said ministers would be better pursuing a more gradual increase “where we can ensure high-quality provision”.

“The government’s stated case for expanding subsidies for apprenticeships is weak,” it added. “There has been no collapse in training by employers (though there has been a shift from off-the-job

towards on-the-job training).”

Shadow skills minister Gordon Marsden commented favourably on the findings.

He said: “The IFS are confirming what we have consistently warned the government about over the past 12 months

“Rushing to hit a 3 million target without sorting out the quality or increasing the proportion of apprenticeships under the age of 25 means they risk failing to deliver the long-term skills strategy we need.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “The apprenticeship levy will boost our economic productivity, increase the country’s skills base and give millions a step on the ladder of opportunity. In 2019 – 20 the levy is forecast to raise £2.8billion, this will take the total investment in England to £2.45 billion, twice what was spent in 2010-11, with the Devolved Administrations receiving £460 million.”

“Quality is at the heart of all of our apprenticeship reforms. We have introduced new apprenticeship standards which are developed by employers themselves and rigorously checked and taken steps to protect the term apprenticeship from misuse helping us to achieve our target of 3 million apprenticeship starts by 2020 and providing excellent value for money.”

She added recent figures showed a 12 per cent increase in apprenticeships that were found to be good or outstanding in their Ofsted inspection, compared to last year, and “over the past year 60 per cent of new apprenticeship proposals have been rejected as a result of them not meeting our key quality criteria, ensuring that only high quality, skilled apprenticeships are being developed”.

“It’s essential that the public sector is representative of the country and has the skills it needs to deliver, both now and in the future,” she said. “Government believes that apprenticeships can play a major role in achieving the public sector’s ambitious goals and meeting national skills gaps. Consequently, Government has established a target to ensure public sector bodies are striving to incorporate apprentices into their workforces.”

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