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Apprenticeship reform: employers handed key role as government aims to boost numbers

Employers will be expected to develop new standards for apprenticeships in England as part of major reforms announced by the government today that aim to greatly increase the number of young people opting for work-based learning.

Leading businesses and professional bodies from eight sectors have already signed up to start developing the new standards and the assessments to go with them.

The government wants the reformed standards to be short, easy-to-understand documents that describe the skills, knowledge and competency needed to master specific occupations.

The new employer-led apprenticeships, which will be rolled-out between 2015 and 2017, will also be graded, last for at least twelve months and include off-the-job training, the government said.

Skills minister Matthew Hancock said the government’s goal was for it to become the norm for young people to go into an apprenticeship, to university or, in the case of some higher apprenticeships, to do both.

”What we are planning will fundamentally change the relationship between employers, the government and those who educate and train apprentices,” he said. "It will also provide a blueprint for wider reform in vocational education.”

The new approach was recommended by entrepreneur and educator Doug Richard in his independent report on the future of apprenticeships in November last year.

But the announcement received a mixed welcome from businesses and educators.

The CBI’s chief policy director Katja Hall said it was a big step towards putting business in the driving seat of apprenticeship reform.

 “The real test of the new system will be whether it is simple; works for firms of all sizes; and puts the funding in the hands of businesses,” she said.

Adam Marshall, director of policy and external affairs at the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) warned that a 'one size fits all' approach would not work.

“For apprenticeship reform to succeed, businesses of all sizes and all sectors must be involved in the reform process, to ensure that new apprenticeship standards meet diverse business needs,” he said.

The Association of Colleges said it was pleased the government was taking forward the Richard recommendations, but said it would be a shame to lose some of the aspects of the current system that work well for employers and apprenticeships.

It said colleges should also be involved in the development process.

But the Association of Teachers and Lecturers said it was concerned that employers would have a role in developing assessment.

General secretary Mary Bousted said: “Any changes must be planned and properly consulted on, particularly with the awarding organisations, who have expert knowledge in developing qualifications and assessments.”

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