Government urged to improve focus on quality of apprenticeships

30 Nov 16

The government has been urged to improve the evaluation of spending on apprenticeships in order to maintain the “crucial distinction” between quality and quantity.

In a report published today, the Public Accounts Committee said it was unclear how the Department for Education will monitor the programme’s overall success, such as how well it meets the needs of employers. At present, the only real metric used by the government is its target to create three million apprenticeships between 2015 and 2020.

This follows a recent analysis by the National Audit Office that suggested the government had not made a convincing argument as to how the apprenticeship scheme will fulfill its stated aim of increasing national productivity.

In today’s report, MPs urged the government to measure how well the scheme improved the opportunities for under-represented groups. According to the report, “it has yet to establish the fairest and most effective way to support people from all backgrounds into apprenticeships”.

Also, it is not clear that the scheme in its current form will be able to address the needs of emerging industries, skills shortages caused by Brexit, and in major government programmes such as High Speed 2.

Commenting on the report, committee chair Meg Hillier said that businesses, apprentices and the public would not consider the scheme a success merely if the government meets its uptake target of three million.

She said: “Such fundamental measures as whether apprenticeships are meeting the needs of employers and the wider economy, or enhancing the prospects and earning power of apprentices, must be properly monitored.”

The DfE is managing a complex transition process to make the apprenticeship programme more employer-led. Part of this involves introducing a levy on larger employers and asking employer groups to design new apprenticeship standards. From April 2017, employers with a pay bill of over £3m per year will pay 0.5% of that pay bill as an apprenticeship levy.

However, the government has not done enough to consider the risks of abuse to the levy, according to the report. This could “incentivise some employers to exploit the system”, by, for example, routing other forms of training into apprenticeships “or hiring apprenticeships as a way to avoid paying the minimum wage”.

The PAC called on the DfE to take the lead in analysing the potential risks, to ensure they are addressed from the start.

The committee also highlighted the sluggish progress of the government in developing new apprenticeship standards, the deadline for which has been put back by three years. A new Institute for Apprenticeships will take responsibility for setting up a new system to review and approve standards. However, the report highlighted the government has not clarified how the institute will operate, and whether it will have the capacity and capability to fulfill its functions.

Furthermore, the committee suggests the government should be more proactive in communicating the value of apprenticeship schemes to potential apprentices, schools and careers services, and to small to medium enterprises.

According to Hillier: “Poor planning has been the poisoned root of many projects examined by our committee.

“The government needs to get the details of this programme right now or risk failing the many people it is intended to support.”

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