Why aren’t former apprentices advising the Government over apprenticeships?

John Hyde accuses the government of hypocrisy through ignoring the group of people who are likely to have the best understanding of related demands and benefits of the vocational training programmes when forming the Institute of Apprenticeships — ex-apprentices.

We now know the identity of the employers forming the Institute of Apprenticeships, all graduates.

Not an ex-apprentice among them, which is a great pity when some of our most successful business are led by ex-apprentices.

One hopes one
of their first moves will be to co-opt some practitioners who actually understand the minutiae of apprenticeship delivery

Each industry will have its heroes, but from the hospitality sector, Jason Atherton, an ex-YTS trainee has grown a chain of 14 restaurants around the world from New York, Sidney, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Dubai with five in London, 3 with Michelin stars.

Despite the Department for Business, Innovation Skills’ (BIS) own research that inviting apprenticeship practitioners to join employers trailblazer groups substantially improved their effectiveness, this evidence seems to have been ignored when creating the membership of the Institute of Apprenticeships.

One hopes one of their first moves will be to co-opt some practitioners who actually understand the minutiae of apprenticeship delivery and employer engagement.

While I am very sceptical about the trailblazer apprenticeship standards
adding any quality to the current frameworks, being totally reliant on an end test, the substantial number of apprenticeships in new sectors and new careers is encouraging.

However I haven’t seen any reduction in my bank charges, now the government is paying for banking qualifications through the apprenticeship route.

This government came to power pledging to increase apprenticeship numbers to 3m starts.

It’s ironic that the first growth requests to the Skills Funding Agency and Education Funding Agency have been turned down.

It may be arguable the 3m will be achieved by the end of this parliament, when the levy is fully in place and the public sector hit their imposed targets.

Yet not funding growth now sends out mixed messages both to the sector and potential employers and apprentices alike.

Opportunities missed now may not be replaceable later.

Concerns are also being expressed about the low take up of trailblazer standards.

Sectors with current high volumes of apprentices, i.e. retail, care, customer services, business administration, hospitality and catering do not yet have trailblazers in place.

Many of the approved trailblazers are at higher levels, where take-up is bound to be lower.

Funding, especially for end testing has not been agreed for most standards, so providers are reluctant to commit without knowing the financial consequences.

But most providers, especially in the high volume areas are concerned about the impact of end testing on completion rates.

The current completion rate of around 70 per cent means just under 1m of the 3m starts will fail.

However, replacing continuous assessment of skills and knowledge with an end test is bound to drop completion rates, as providers get used to the new system.

Many learners took the apprenticeship route because of the practical skills and not the written testing, so for many they will fail in the new system.

It would damage apprenticeships’ reputation if the completion rates fell drastically, or learners or employers decline to personally fund retakes.

Headlines of 50 per cent failure rates in apprenticeships, or only half of the 3m apprentices pass would make political capital for the opposition parties as they emerged towards the end of this parliament.

Retention of SASE frameworks as an insurance to ensure this does not occur until we have actual results from trailblazer completions, makes sense.


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  1. And the reason specialists with a broad view of all stakeholders aren’t being asked to contribute is the same as with former apprentices, it’s preferable to hear what they want to believe from the representatives of provider networks who in turn believe the leadership of learning providers, many of which are unlikely to know what the experience is of their own apprentices or employers let alone that of an organisation along the road.
    As with other specialists, I learned a great deal during 5 years as WBL coordinator with an FE college followed by several years as a WBL eLearning adviser which included reviewing the ICT condition of more than thirty colleges, interviewing managers, staff and learners. Not just leadership. Time and again we learned that senior management hadn’t much idea what the experience of learners or staff really was, good bad or a disgrace. The leadership relying on data and whatever they are told by the various levels of management in their organisation, it’s the way most work, so hardly well placed to advise on such an important issue, especially on the subject of apprenticeships.
    Conversely and as John says, there are exemplary learning providers to call on as well as ex apprentices that know the reality, but they aren’t being asked either.
    Is anybody listening because it’s obvious that the sector is running out of chances along with the aspirations of government.

  2. Graham Hoyle OBE

    As ever a sound article from John Hyde with his vast experience from the front line. Just one point where I think he is slightly off line. He warns about a possible dip in apprenticeship success because of the change to end testing. I suspect he is right with this pragmatic prediction.
    The bigger issue however is the fact that examination type end testing moves away from the competence build up of demonstrated skills that lies not only at the heart of apprenticeships but of all quality work based learning. A move that represents a key victory for the academically minded educationalists who have been chipping away at the growing importance (overdue) of WBL since the arrival of NVQs 25 years ago.

  3. Paul O'Neill

    I fully agree, but perhaps it’s due to the Government not wanting to hear the truth, my Apprenticeship deeds from 1974 bear the seal of the then Secretary of Defence and during my ‘career’ from Apprentice, Apprentice Master, Trainer, Supervisor, Lecturer to Assistant Principal I’ve seen successive Governments destroy the Engineering Apprenticeships through either stopping funding or looking for quantity rather than quality.

    All senior Employers who were engineering apprentices looking for new Apprentice training always ask ‘can you do what I was trained to do’.

    These people will give a totally different report than the Richard Review (an American ‘Entrepreneur’), or the views of the other lauded Goverment ‘advisors’ such as Karren Brady or Michelle Mone and probably would have stopped Matthew Hancock’s Trailblazers in its tracks. That might have saved Nick Boles from having to say they were not ‘going off half-cocked again’.