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Adonis: 'The government is the country’s worst employer of apprentices'

The government is the country’s “worst employer of apprentices”, and a radical redesign of the “deplorable” apprenticeship system is essential to drive up skill levels, according to a former education minister.

Lord Adonis, who served as schools minister under the Labour government, has called for a wholesale reform of the work-based training system.

Speaking at Pearson’s Spotlight on Skills conference in London yesterday, Lord Adonis’ outspoken intervention came at the end of National Apprenticeship Week.

“Too many employers, including the government, do not have apprentices for under-21year-olds on their radar,” he told the conference.

Skills and enterprise minister Matthew Hancock has previously encouraged departments and MPs to recruit apprentices, and even hired one for his own office.

But Lord Adonis described the government as “the worst employer of apprentices I’ve come across in the entire country”, citing the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills – responsible for running the apprenticeship programme – as “the very worst of all”.

He referred to figures from 2012, which revealed the department employed just 19 apprentices, only one of whom was under the age of 21.

Lord Adonis – who has been tipped as a candidate for mayor of London in 2016 - also criticised the decrease in 16-18 apprenticeships, and claimed that around half of those currently running were of too low quality or were too short.

He said that the majority of apprentices referred to in government statistics amounted to little more than “rebadged” on-the-job training for adults already in work, which “wouldn’t be recognised as apprenticeships in continental countries”.

Lord Adonis, who insisted that his personal views were not official Labour policy, called for a “radical redesign” of the “deplorable” apprenticeship system, with all placements lasting for at least two years.

While Adonis is best-known as the architect of the school academies movement, he told delegates that reforming apprenticeships would be as important in the next decade has school reforms had been over the last 15 years.

Rather than apprentices being graded, Lord Adonis told TES they should be either passed or failed, and culminate in a thorough practical and theoretical assessment “like a driving test”.

He also said there was “a case” for paying apprentices more. At present, the minimum wage for apprentices is £2.68 – less than half the minimum rate of £6.31 for over-21s.

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