The Chief Executive of the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) has called for the sector to work together in order to stamp out poor quality apprenticeships.

Simon Waugh (right), speaking at the fourth national ‘Future of Apprenticeships’ conference last week, said if everyone was “on the case” it would be possible to get substandard training down to three per cent of total programmes.

“If we’re all on the case, then what we can do is, if we’ve got five, six, or seven per cent of the programme which we collectively would agree is substandard.. I’ll tell you what, between us we could get it down to four per cent, and then we’ll get it down to three per cent, Mr Waugh said.

He added: “Will it ever be perfect? I don’t think so. I honestly don’t think that with 450,000, or 500,00 starts, every single one will be perfect. But I tell you what. We’ll get as close to perfection as we possibly can.”

Mr Waugh said the NAS would review every training provider deemed to be delivering short apprenticeships.

“We are going to look at every single one of the frameworks, and every one of the programmes which are being delivered materially in less time, with the question ‘why are you doing it in significantly less time?’ and ‘why are we paying you for it?’”

Mr Waugh added: “If only 10 per cent of the money in the last year went to 25 plus, you can see we’re already paying a very, very, very heavily discounted rate for 25 plus.

In the last two years, with all the growth we’ve achieved across the programme as a whole, 29 per cent of that growth has been 16 to 18 year-olds in an incredibly tough employment market for young people.”

“But it doesn’t matter. We don’t want to pay £1 to anybody to say you’ve delivered an apprenticeship if it’s one that actually is not one that is really an apprenticeship, and there’ isn’t embedded learning in that, and also the period of time to prove the skills have been embedded.

“So we have a whole programme now around looking at quality, and the minister has said very clearly in the last few weeks that the absolute priority for us as an agency is quality, quality quality.”
Mr Waugh said concerns about the rise in apprentices aged 25 plus was a “British disease” damaging a great success story.

“I hear all the time, ‘isn’t it such a shame that all apprenticeships and all the growth are around adults, what about young people?’

“In the last two years, with all the growth we’ve achieved across the programme as a whole, 29 per cent of that growth has been 16 to 18 year-olds in an incredibly tough employment market for young people.

“Last year, 89 per cent of all apprenticeship programme funds went to 16 to 24 year-olds, and I think that’s a really stunning number.

“It’s a very British disease in my view, taking something which is potentially a great success story and looking at the five, ten per cent on the margins.”

The conference, held at the International Coffee Organisation (ICO) in London, was attended by more than 150 delegates from further education colleges and training providers.

The morning session played host to some of the heavyweights of the apprenticeship community, including Dr Susan Pember, Director of Further Education and Skills Investment at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).

“I must say from the onset that I’m still in awe of what Simon has managed to achieve over the last 18 months, because you’re right, in 2003/04 we didn’t get the word apprenticeship talked about that much, but with Simon’s work and leadership over the last few years, nearly every leading company, if they’re not offering apprenticeships, know they should. And that is an amazing achievement,” she said.

Although the title of conference referenced the future of apprenticeships, the civil servant was also keen to remind delegates of the past.

“Over the last year the government has worked with the UK commission to find ways in which to engage employers more,” Pember said.

“The concept of guilds has come forward and the Growth and Innovation Fund has had several bids and projects accepted to actually establish skills.”

She added: “The reason that John Hayes particularly is advocating that is about ensuring that vocational education and training is seen as prestigious.”

Dr Susan Pember also wanted to reiterate the importance of apprenticeships and how they would enable Britain to compete in the global marketplace.

“It’s not something you do for one or two years in your youth, you carry it through as a profession, and that’s really important,” Pember said.

“It’s important that apprentices turn into master craftspeople, who then turn into teachers and trainers themselves, either in the workplace or back with the provider, and they carry on the professional updating.

“That cycle of professional updating is the only thing which will make us an incredible nation that can compete with other nations.”

The speech was followed by Michael Davis, Chief Executive for the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES), who discussed what should be done to improve apprenticeships over the next 10 years.

Mr Davis said he wanted employers to take on a “collective responsibility” that included investing more in the labour pool and accepting more accountability.

It’s important that apprentices turn into master craftspeople, who then turn into teachers and trainers themselves”

“Public expenditure will only go in one direction over the next 10 years. The government has done an awful lot, but at some point in the future maybe the government does less, because employers themselves really own the agenda and want to take it forward,” Mr Davis said. That in turn creates a real sense of action.”

Proposals from the UKCES included funding employers directly for apprenticeships, for example through the tax system or incentivised work, and extending the scope and needs of competitive investment funds.

Following a quick refreshment break there were a number of sessions analysing the delivery of vocational training, including how access to apprenticeships could be improved for young people and the best way to incentivise small and medium sized employers.

This then led into an afternoon seminar featuring, among others, Nick Linford, Managing Director of Lsect and Managing Editor of FE Week, and Peter Cobrin, Director of Not Going to Uni.

The conference concluded at 4:30pm after a series of additional case studies, as well as a question and answer session from a selection of the speakers.


Policy Review TV’s interactive online broadcast

A video feed of the conference was broadcast live by Policy Review TV.

Anyone who was unable to attend the event could watch all of the speeches, as well as their presentation slides, by paying a reduced fee on the Policy Review TV website.

The service allowed users to ask questions and participate in an online comments section, and also follow the official Twitter hashtag for the event, #vocation11.

Paul Rushworth, Marketing Manager for Policy Review TV, said: “Rather than just sitting and watching they can actually interact, so any questions that come up will come to someone like myself or the team inside filming, and they’ll then be passed through to the Chair.”

FE Week was given a demonstration during the morning sessions and discovered that more than 100 people were using the service.

Mr Rushworth said: “Because the price point is considerably lower, people who are perhaps in more junior positions but could still use the information are able to access and participate.”

Presentations could still be accessed once the event was finished using an on-demand service provided by Policy Review TV.

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