Introducing our new series of insights from the Voice of Reason

The trouble with Apprenticeships (Part 1)


Apprentices face a chasm between their education and subsequent employability. The skills they have previously learnt aren’t necessarily what are needed by businesses who are looking for readily-employable staff.

The last few weeks have seen an escalation in the ongoing spat between the Association of Educational and Learning Providers (AELP) and the Institute for Apprenticeships (IfA) with the former claiming that the latter is not ready for end point assessments and that this will delay completion of apprenticeship programmes and delays in payments to providers. The latter (who actually complete 40% of all end point assessments themselves), call the accusations inflammatory and talk down the value of apprenticeships.

If that is not enough, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) itself, has stated that the general educational content (maths and English) of our apprenticeship programmes is far less than the European average.

The 24% fall in the number of people starting in-work training reported by the BBC is down to ‘confusion and frustration’ among employers according to the British Chambers of Commerce. Incidentally, a national survey of employers conducted by the British Chambers of Commerce found that 80% of employers thought school leavers were unfit for work and the figures were not much better for colleges and universities.

Perhaps it is the complexity of the new levy scheme introduced a year ago that is putting employers off, but as these employers tend to be the large ones, what are the smaller ones feeling? Small firm apprenticeships are still subsidised by the government but the BBC says that ‘many think that the system is complicated, poorly organised and does not offer the training they need. According to a House of Commons briefing paper in November 2016, 99% of businesses in the UK are small or medium sized, and 15.7 million people work for them (10.5 million work for large companies). It is not surprising that despite the Department for Education’s saying “We have put employers at the heart of designing new higher quality apprenticeships,” the British Chambers of Commerce “would like to see the government provide more support for small and medium sized companies.”

Small and medium sized businesses need people who are immediately employable. They often lack the induction and in-house training resource that larger businesses do. If the apprenticeship programme lacks the general education and employability skills that employers need, no wonder so many business leaders are reporting a lack of fitness for work.

The needs of employers are straightforward but are no longer covered in the curricula of schools, colleges and universities. It is almost as if key decision makers think that skills such as critical thinking, team working and communication are learned incidentally as part of growing up. Sadly, for most young people this is not true and the result is that they cannot manage the shift in culture from education into employment.

It is an aim of EmployabilityUK to help bridge this gap, and we urge the British Chambers of Commerce to ensure that apprenticeships produce the well-rounded, employment-ready young people businesses really need.

The Voice of Reason. April 2018

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