We have a lot to celebrate this National Apprenticeship Week. And not just the huge number of people now participating in apprenticeships and climbing the ladder of opportunity. This has taken place against a backdrop of rising standards in apprenticeship training and assessment.
In 2009/10 there were fewer than half a million people doing apprenticeships. There was no requirement that training must last at least a year, and no minimum amount of guided learning it must include.
Last year, over 750,000 people were participating in apprenticeships, training to the rigorous, industry-designed standards we introduced from 2014.
This academic year we’ve already seen 130,830 apprenticeship starts between August and October, up 7 per cent on the same period the previous year. Among those, the number of young people under 25 starting an apprenticeship is up by 6 per cent, at 78,960 starts. And the number of achievements is up 22 per cent so far this academic year, with 37,400 people passing their apprenticeship.
This is a huge achievement – brought about by the businesses, training providers, colleges and universities that worked with the government to get this right. There are now over 690 high-quality apprenticeships in roles ranging from forestry to data science. Most importantly, each now delivers the skills businesses need, helping them grow their turnover and contribute to economic growth.
The Ronseal levy
The apprenticeship levy has been a huge part of this success story. I think of it as the Ronseal Levy because it does what it says on the tin: supports employers to take on more apprentices and invest in the high-quality training needed for a skilled workforce.
There are calls for flexibility to spend the levy on other types of staff training, but its funds have contributed massively to the proliferation of apprenticeships. Diluting its use would significantly decrease these opportunities. Allowing employers to use half of the fund for other skills training last academic year could have resulted in a near-60 per cent reduction in apprentice starts.
Cutting red tape
Small businesses are the levy’s great beneficiaries. It subsidises 95 per cent of a small employer’s training costs, rising to 100 per cent for the smallest firms who hire apprentices aged 18 and under.
We want to encourage SMEs to make the most of this funding, and I’m determined that they’re not put off by paperwork. That’s why we are slashing red tape for these employers by ending the limit on the number of apprentices they can hire and reducing the steps needed to do so.
A social justice mission
But it’s not just about total numbers. We also want to find more ways to support groups that are underrepresented in the programme. That is why we have begun a pilot scheme to help training providers offer quality mentoring to disabled people starting an apprenticeship. This will give participants tailored support from someone who understands the programme as well as their individual needs and circumstances.
Apprenticeships also serve social justice by offering new routes into professions traditionally reserved for graduates. The Teacher Degree Apprenticeship announced at the start of National Apprenticeship Week will allow trainees to earn and learn, while gaining an undergraduate degree and qualified teacher status.
It’s a win-win for everybody, helping schools to recruit the highly-skilled teachers they need and opening up the profession to more people. This could include teaching assistants and other staff already working in schools. Degree-level apprenticeships like this one have been incredibly popular since their launch in 2015, with over 218,000 people starting on these prestigious training pathways.
There is still more to be done to build a world-class skills system in this country. But this National Apprenticeship Week, I’m looking forward to getting out and about to celebrate the progress we’ve made. And the best sign of that progress is the success of individual apprentices, who are putting in the hard yards of rigorous training to climb the ladder of opportunity and build a better life for themselves.