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Apprenticeships 'misused' by employers to train staff, study claims

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Apprenticeships are being “misused” by businesses for training existing adult employees, according to a new study.

Research into adult apprenticeships in England conducted by the UCL Institute of Education (IoE) and the Nuffield Foundation has found that government funding is being used to support the training of existing employees who are badged as apprentices.

The major study, Does apprenticeship work for adults?, calls for a “radical rethink” of the way that the government uses the term "apprenticeship" to avoid it becoming devalued. It also warns that planned cuts to the adult skills budget could cause many adults who would benefit from training to miss out.

The study examines the experiences of adult apprentices aged 25 and over in five different sectors, and the motivations of their employers for participating in the government-funded programme.

It identifies considerable demand for upskilling and retraining from employees in that age bracket. It also finds that employers are keen to adopt "grow your own" training strategies to develop the specific skills they need and to help with staff retention.

But many of the apprentices had not received the level of training associated with an apprenticeship. The research team found that older learners voiced concerns about the lack of new learning and whether the qualifications they had gained would help them progress in their careers. 

Adult apprentices were more positive about having to pass English and maths tests, which many found challenging and rewarding, and many welcomed the chance to improve their IT skills.

The government wants to create 3 million new apprenticeships over the next five years. However, Professor Alison Fuller, who led the study, said the research raised serious concerns over the cuts to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills budget for adult skills. 

“Clearly adult apprenticeships work in one sense,” she said. “They are widely supported by employers who see them as a way to reward and build an effective workforce to meet future business demands.

“But while I welcome the government’s commitment to expanding apprenticeships, this has been at the expense of other adult skills, with non-apprenticeship learning reduced by up to a quarter. 

“Many adult apprentices will have undertaken vocational training prior to starting their apprenticeship. Without good adult skills training, many older employees may not have the confidence or skills to enter an apprenticeship in the future.”

David Hughes, chief executive of adult education body Niace, said: “I am concerned, like the IoE, that the apprenticeship experience for too many people is a simple assessment process of existing skills. That is not what an apprenticeship should be.

“The apprenticeship programme should be part of a wider picture of state, employer and individual investment, rather than the only answer to the government's ambition to raise productivity and support people into work.”

Mr Hughes said there was a “real danger” that the government’s 3 million apprenticeships target could lead to “more low quality, assessment-heavy training programmes that dilute the brand”.

A seminar is being held at the Nuffield Foundation in London on Wednesday to discuss the study.

A BIS spokesperson said: "Apprenticeships are jobs which involve high quality training to employees of all ages. Research shows that apprentices and employers are highly satisfied with the training they receive. We are committed to 3 million new apprenticeships starts in this Parliament and want to make all apprenticeships world class, so that the programme is responsive to the changing skills needs of the businesses."

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