Apprenticeships expansion “not benefiting the young”, warns IPPR

16 Aug 16

The government’s apprenticeships scheme too often delivers poor training and may be benefiting those aged over 25 years of age more than young people, the IPPR think-tank has claimed today.

Ahead of its new report on the programme due out next week, the IPPR said that over-25s are more likely to get places than younger candidates. Although the number of places grew by 30% between 2010-11 and 2014-15, the number of places going to 17- and 18-year-olds fell by 8,000 over the same period.

Moreover, there was a risk that the government was focusing on quantity and not quality, as it seeks to deliver on its commitment to create three million apprenticeships by 2020.

For example, the report warned that light touch regulation of apprenticeship standards coupled with the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy, could encourage large employers in sectors such as retail to rebrand existing training as apprenticeships to receive government subsidies.

The think tank reports that in 2014, 64% of apprentices were ‘internal recruits’, instead of new employees, and that 80% of level 2 intermediate apprentices already held a qualification equivalent to the same level.

Commenting on the findings, Charlynne Pullen, IPPR senior research fellow said not enough younger people were benefitting from the apprenticeship scheme, and warned this situation was likely to worsen in the coming years.

She said: “Training existing staff in what they already know isn’t what the public think of as an apprenticeship. There is a real risk of the new apprenticeship system repeating many of the same mistakes as the previous system that it is replacing.”

The government’s apprenticeship programme was likely to work effectively for large employers who have a commitment to high quality technical training. But it may not work for a 21st century economy that comprises many small businesses and is weighted toward the service sector.

In addition, the levy will only cover 2% of employers, meaning that most employees will not have an incentive to take on apprenticeships.

Jonathan Clifton, IPPR’s associate director for public services, cautioned “England was in danger of introducing an apprenticeship system that would work well in the economy of the 1960s, but is not fit for a 21st-century workforce.”

He agreed that the government had made steps in the right direction – such as with the levy – but “there is more work to be done to ensure that all young people had access to high quality ‘earning and learning’ routes”.

Among the recommendations made by the think tank are to tighten apprenticeship standards, rather than relaxing them, and extend the levy to cover smaller employees. A dedicated ‘pre-apprenticeship’ route for 16-18 year olds to ensure that young people are properly prepared to start a Level 3 advanced apprenticeship.

Also suggested was the reintroduction of a nationally recognised qualification as part of all apprenticeships. This would ensure young people had transferable qualifications in “an increasingly flexible” jobs market.

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