My review and reaction to the Government’s response

I am passionate about the role apprenticeships have to play in helping to re-energise our economy. They are a great way to bring new blood into a business and to ensure that new opportunities are seized and important skills are not lost.

It has been gratifying, therefore, that the recommendations I put forward in my review, Making Apprenticeships More Accessible for SMEs, have been broadly accepted by the Government and welcomed by industry.

I am particularly pleased that the apprenticeship grant for employers (AGE 16-24) has been extended and made more accessible, and that businesses will have a greater say in the development of training programmes.

I am disappointed the Government has not taken more notice of my proposal”

More bespoke SME messaging by the National Apprenticeships Service, and an increased role for trusted advisers – such as accountants and lawyers – in promoting apprenticeships to their clients will also do much to raise the profile of this route to developing talent.

I am disappointed, however, that the Government has not taken more notice of my proposal that enlightened head teachers disseminate best practice.

I had hoped that they would require schools to actively promote apprenticeships and to put a stronger emphasis on equipping pupils with the skills that would make them attractive, work-ready candidates for SMEs.

This is desperately needed. A 2011 AOL survey of 500 pupils entering Year 10 found that only 7 per cent were able to name apprenticeships as a post-GCSE option.

The anecdotal feedback I heard during the review process supports this. There is no doubt that apprenticeships are portrayed in schools as only suitable for the less able or more practical students.

Destination measures are welcome, but there is still no obvious structure in the school system to encourage young people to think of apprenticeships as a career path.  Indeed, they are often encouraged to go on to A-levels and higher education even when an apprenticeship would suit their needs much better.

The Government’s decision to hand the baton to already hard-pressed and financially constrained schools will result in little actually happening”

The Government has accepted that more needs to be done to ensure that young people and their parents have access to quality information about the options available post-16.  But it believes that it should be up to schools themselves – with partners such as local employers – to decide how best to address this challenge.

Their decision to hand the baton to already hard-pressed and financially constrained schools will result in little actually happening ¬- and changes to the provision of Information Advice and Guidance (IAG) will make it even harder to counter some of the existing prejudices against apprenticeships.

From this month, schools have a new duty to secure independent, impartial careers guidance for their pupils in Years 9-11 on all post-16 education and training options, including apprenticeships. In a busy school, and despite the best intentions, it will be all too tempting to simply direct pupils to one of the established career websites.

Feedback from industry groups suggests they are equally disappointed with the Government’s decision to “pass the buck”.  Indeed, in the focus groups I ran with SMEs in the run-up to the review, it was young people not being “work-ready” that caused the most angst and was the biggest barrier to their take up of apprenticeships.

So what do we need to do to make sure the message about a stronger role for schools in promoting apprenticeships doesn’t sink without trace?  Many more schools should join forces with employers to showcase the successes of those who have chosen the apprenticeship route.

I would also like to see schools finding creative ways to equip their pupils with transferable, work-related skills.  For instance, more businesses taking governership positions and young people running their own schools, motivating teachers to spend some of their summer holiday working in businesses.

By Jason Holt

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