Short apprenticeships offer “no real benefit,” say MPs

Apprenticeships delivered in six months or less offer “no real benefit” to learners or employers, according to a report published by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

Margaret Hodge MP, who chaired the panel, says she is concerned that roughly one in five apprenticeships (19 per cent) were delivered in six months or less during 2010/11.

“The danger is that apprenticeships lasting such a short time are of no real benefit to either the individuals who take part or employers and could devalue the programme,” Ms Hodge said.

“I am pleased therefore that the skills minister announced recently that adult apprenticeships will last a minimum of six months and normally at least 12 months.”

However, the growth in adult apprenticeships has been branded a “success” by the PAC.

The panel of backbench MPs says the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) “has done very well” to more than quadruple the number of adult apprentices in the four years leading up to 2010/11.

“We recognise the significant achievement of the Department and its partners in raising both the number of adult apprentices and the percentage who successfully complete their apprenticeship,” the report reads.

The relationship between the NAS and SFA remains unclear”

The report later suggests that the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) could be overpaying private training providers due to “out-of-date” funding rates.

“The Service does not know what level of profits providers are making on different types of apprenticeships,” the report reads.

“Nor does it know whether it is subsidising some apprenticeships more than others.”

It later adds: “There is also evidence to suggest some providers are providing training without receiving the expected contribution from employers.

“The Service should work closely with the Agency to link the funding it provides more closely with the delivery costs.”

Ms Hodge said: “If the Service is to get better at targeting of resources, it needs to understand better which apprenticeships in which sectors deliver the best value for money.

“It doesn’t currently know what levels of profit the providers are making and whether it is paying them too much for some types of apprenticeship.”

The PAC report also calls for a structural review of the NAS and Skills Funding Agency (SFA) to ensure there is “minimal duplication” in their responsibilities.

“The relationship between the NAS and SFA remains unclear,” the report reads.

“The way in which the two bodies interact, and the question of who is responsible and accountable for what, still needs to be clarified.

“This will be particularly important to settle during 2012, given the Department needs to appoint new permanent chief executives in each body.”

The skills minister, speaking at an evidence session held by the BIS Select Committee for their inquiry into apprenticeships last week, admitted there was “an argument for changing the way the SFA is structured.”

“No government gets all these things right and I remember when we were in opposition looking at the SFA and the NAS, talking about whether that was the right structure and whether the existing arrangements with the SFA, where it’s an external body – not a permanent body – was right,” Mr Hayes told the Committee.

“I’ve increasingly come to the view that we need to bring that more in-house…and we’re looking very closely at that now.”

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  1. 8. In 2010, 5% of employers in England had apprentices compared to, for example, 24% in Germany and 30% in Australia. The Service suggested that employers in England were more likely to regard training as a cost rather than an investment, and that vocational skills were more valued in countries such as Germany.

    And how does asking employers to pay cash to take on Apprentices address this issue?

    the required minimum amount of off-the-job training being only 100 hours.[31] A recent report published by the Department found that less than half (46%) of the apprentices surveyed said they received off-the-job training.[32]

    Which is an absolute disgrace. However, the funding structure penalises providers like me who spend a lot of time and resources in direct, face to face contact with their students. Way to go,bean counters.

    In practice, providers concentrate on delivering a small number of apprenticeship subjects in bulk; in 2010/11, 83% of new apprenticeships were in 15 (out of 118) subjects…..

    Because most providers are FE Colleges who don’t have the vocationally competent deliverers – where did the Govt think they were going to magic them from?

    However, the Service considers that years of cultural change would be required for employers to engage on a larger scale.[36]

    No it won’t – but what it will take is a programme fit for purpose (and designed to meet employers’ needs, not DBIS and the DofE’s needs) before employers will put down their barge poles.

    16. The Service and Agency lack reliable evidence on which to base the rates they use to fund apprenticeship training. Some elements of the funding calculations have become particularly dated, while in addition apprenticeship tariffs have been adjusted simply to reflect changes in their annual budgets, rather than any assessment of changes in the actual costs of delivery.[

    No! Really?! Y’think? £130 for a Key Skill?! And God knows what for a Functional Skill?!

    17. The Service and Agency could not demonstrate they had a way of testing that their funding rates were robustly based on the actual costs of delivery. The Service was unable to say how much of its funding is spent by providers on the actual training of apprentices.[41] The Agency said that it knew training providers were making a profit (based on the rationale that, otherwise, they would go out of business), but was unable to say how profitable different types of apprenticeship are to deliver.[42]

    Please tell me this programme is not overseen by the Department for Business…..
    And they wait to see if providers go out of business before they know if their sums are right…………..Ok………….

    So, in conclusion, a programme run by organisations that don’t know how much it costs to deliver and rely on provider bankruptcy to give them an idea, that has only been taken up by a minority of employers and acknowledges that it’s only usable by big employers, isn’t targeted at priority industries and being unable to deliver a system that the country really needs, will (hopefully) hand it over to employers to make it work for them.

    9. The Service argued strongly that apprenticeships made business sense for all kinds of employers, not just those within sectors traditional to apprenticeships, such as manufacturing. However, smaller employers, and those which make use of self-employed contractors, might find it more difficult to engage with the Programme. While the Service told us that microbusinesses could use training associations to find an apprentice, it did not specify how easy it was for them to find out about and access such services. Equally, it did not yet have an answer as to how the Programme could be tailored to help improve skills in industries which make prominent use of self-employed contractors, for instance web design

    So, in fact, the Service contradicts itself – unless their understanding of “makes business sense” is “difficult to engage with the programme”

    The Agency said it relies on awarding bodies, which design apprenticeship qualifications and assess candidates’ performance, to verify that individuals are completing their apprenticeships to the required standards

    And if they are completing the qualifications to the required standards then why shouldn’t the providers claim the funding when they have achieved? The trouble with the current system is that the length of the programme is being equated to when the quals have been achieved and the funding claimed – when, in fact, it could be argued that the ‘Apprenticeship’ aspect of the programme continues for many months, even years, after the quals have been achieved and the knowledge gradually being applied. To me, this is evidence that DBIS/SFA/NAS are confused about what it is they are supposed to be running.