The chief executive of the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) has warned “all will be lost” if the sector fails to tackle poor quality apprenticeships.
“In terms of quality, it’s all very well to gain market share, and grow the programme, and grow it to record numbers, but if we’re undermining the prestige and the view of whether this really is a quality pathway, then all will be lost,” Simon Waugh, chief executive of the NAS said.
Mr Waugh, who is set to leave his post in March, said short duration apprenticeships were doing a “huge disservice” to the apprenticeship brand.
He said: “There are, as we’ve grown, issues emerging around some of the quality around that delivery.
“There has emerged in the last 12 months, some apprenticeships that have been counted and asked from a provider, the money for an apprenticeship that lasts 12 weeks.
“It cannot be an apprenticeship in 12 weeks for 16 to 18 year-olds.”
He added: “It is doing a huge disservice to the brand.”
Mr Waugh, speaking at ‘The future of 14-19 vocational education in England’ conference held by the Westminster Education Forum last week, said it was a “challenge” for the NAS to drive out rogue providers.
“When we find poor provision, a lot of it is, why isn’t NAS doing something about it?
“That to me is like someone being mugged in the street and saying why weren’t the police there to stop it?”
Mr Waugh also said he agreed with the concerns of FE Week surrounding rebranded Train to Gain courses.
“We have a lot of work to do in terms of further developing frameworks, but actually I think that Nick Linford and FE Week, I know one of his big concerns are things that were NVQs and Train to Gain being badged as apprenticeships, and we’ve got to stop that happening,” he said.
Mr Waugh was joined by Peter Cobrin, national education director at notgoingtouni.co.uk, Bill Fearon, principal and chief executive at K College, Tony Ellender, training manager at Balfour Beatty Construction Northern and Ross Varnam, former apprentice and silver medallist at WorldSkills London 2011.
Mr Cobrin was keen to emphasise the lack of high quality information, advice and guidance about apprenticeships available to young people.
“We are not winning the war about how good apprenticeships are,” Mr Cobrin said.
“There is no quality information, advice and guidance on apprenticeships, and Michael Gove has abandoned this territory totally.”
He added: “I challenge the FE colleges who do have those industry connections and the awareness of the real world of work, to step up to the mark and start channelling quality information advice and guidance about apprenticeships over the heads of schools if necessary.”
It cannot be an apprenticeship in 12 weeks for 16 to 18 year-olds”
Mr Waugh seemed to agree in his opening speech, saying the first priority was to ensure the public was sufficiently aware of the apprenticeship pathway.
“If you look at the key stakeholders, starting off with young people – are they interested in it, do they know anything abut it?” Mr Waugh said.
“Also educationalists, the schools and everyone else that will be advising and talking to young people and their parents about what the route may be.”
He added: “You’re very unlikely to buy a product from a company you’ve never heard of.”
Mr Fearon said that despite the concerns surrounding short duration apprenticeships, it was up to colleges to “accentuate the positives” about vocational training.
“I don’t believe that our current system is dysfunctional,” Mr Fearon said.
“I think there are issues and problems, and the devil is in the detail and we need to address those, but I think it’s the responsibility of stakeholders to accentuate the positives about our system and to truly make the best of it.”
Mr Waugh also called for greater credibility from colleges and training providers.
“Does it really deliver value for the employer on one side, because these are real jobs, not just a bit of training and a bit of work experience.
“These are real jobs, with definitive, training and up-skilling through an apprenticeship, and if therefore it doesn’t really deliver for employers, real added value to their business, we will never create it as an alternative mainstream pathway.”
The apprenticeship debate was followed by a panel on vocational qualifications generally, including Colin Booth, principal at Barnsley College, Kate Shoesmith, head of policy and corporate affairs at City & Guilds, Janet Felkin, headteacher at Blatchington Mill School and Sixth Form College and Simon Perks, team leader of policy development at Ofqual.