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Apprenticeship brand 'damaged' by unemployment link, MPs warn


An “excessive” focus on apprenticeships as a way of tackling youth unemployment could be damaging their status, a group of MPs has warned.

In a report published today to mark the start of National Apprenticeship Week, the cross-party education committee says there are still too few young people involved in work-based learning, despite recent improvements.

The report, Apprenticeships and traineeships for 16 to 19 year-olds, says the government should not sacrifice quality in its drive to increase the number of apprenticeships.

And, it warns: “Excessive emphasis on apprenticeships as a means to combat youth unemployment risks reinforcing the myth that apprenticeships are a second class option and damages the apprenticeship brand.”

Graham Stuart, chair of the Commons Education Select Committee, said: “Apprenticeships are a viable, high quality alternative to more academic routes and should not be seen or presented as a second class option for young people.

“Strong efforts must be made to challenge prevailing attitudes that unduly favour academic routes and block access to information about apprenticeships.”

The 59-page report looks at how reforms are being implemented following the Richard Review of Apprenticeships in 2012.

It concludes that the government must improve quality of provision while getting more employers to commit to providing work-based learning opportunities, and makes 23 recommendations to policy-makers.

Among those is the “urgent” need to review the incentives for schools to provide good quality careers advice.

It also says the government should review the benefits of funding adult apprenticeships and apprenticeships for young people and look at whether more or all of the money would be better spent on 16 to 19-year-olds.

While it congratulates the government on listening to employers and providers and abandoning its initial proposals for apprenticeship funding reform, it says new proposals must be brought forward “swiftly” to minimise uncertainty.

It also calls on the government to provide greater clarity about the purpose of traineeships and what the success criteria for the programme are.

Sally Hunt general secretary of the University and College Union, said the government’s efforts to expand apprenticeships should be applauded, but more flexibility was needed.

“Linking apprenticeships to youth unemployment and stripping away funding for other types of courses risks damaging their status as a high-quality training option,” she said.

“We welcome the report’s emphasis on the importance of careers advice and support moves to ensure all young people get better advice from an early age.”

A spokesman for the Department for Education said:“This government has significantly raised the quality of apprenticeships and introduced traineeships to ensure young people have the skills that employers need, and it is hugely encouraging that today’s report recognises this.

“We welcome the report’s recognition that the number of high quality apprenticeships for young people has doubled, and that apprenticeships offer excellent opportunities for young people and should not be seen as a second class option."

Related stories: 

'Remake' apprenticeships by focusing on teaching, say skills bodies – February 2015

Apprenticeships and traineeships continue to grow, new figures show – January 2015

Government sent back to the drawing board on apprenticeship funding reforms – January 2015

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