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Calls to scrap courses that are 'apprenticeships in name only'

A thinktank has criticised courses that are 'apprenticeships in name only', which are often 'low-skilled' or management training courses

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A thinktank has criticised courses that are 'apprenticeships in name only', which are often 'low-skilled' or management training courses

Funding should be withdrawn from apprenticeship standards that fail to meet the internationally recognised definition of an apprentice training, a new report suggests.

In its Great Training Robbery report, independent public services thinktank Reform said the government should adopt the International Labour Office (ILO) definition in order to stop “low-skill and management training courses” being “incorrectly labelled as apprenticeships”.

The ILO defines apprenticeships as “training programmes that combine vocational education with work-based learning for an intermediate occupational skill (e.g more than routinised job training)”.

The report states that these so-called “mislabelled courses” account for nearly 40 per cent of the apprenticeships designed by employers in recent years. Reform warns that without reform, in 2019-20 the government will spend £600 million on courses that are “apprenticeships in name only”.

Levy is ‘too complicated’

Tom Richmond, senior research fellow at Reform, said: “At present, the apprenticeship levy is too complicated for employers, focused on too many inappropriate forms of training and as a result is unlikely to deliver value-for-money. The government urgently needs to get rid of these poor-quality apprenticeships in order to provide more opportunities for young people to train as genuine apprentices while saving hundreds of millions of pounds in the process”.

The report also makes a number of recommendations for the government:

  • The target for three million apprenticeship starts by 2020 should be abandoned so that the focus can be placed on apprenticeship quality above all else.
  • The government should introduce a new internationally benchmarked definition of an ‘apprenticeship’ and any apprenticeship standard that does not meet this definition should be withdrawn.
  • The requirement for 10 per cent employer co-investment towards the cost of training apprentices should be removed with immediate effect to avoid employers disengaging from apprenticeships.
  • The government should replace its digital payment system with a simpler ‘apprenticeship voucher’ model to give employers control of government funding while reducing their administrative burdens.
  • All apprenticeship standards and end-point assessments for apprentices should be assigned a fixed cost by the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) to remove the need for complicated price and contract negotiations between employers and both training and assessment providers.
  • Ofqual should be made the only option for quality assuring the end-point assessments for apprentices to ensure that standards are maintained over time and poor practice is quickly identified and eradicated.

Apprenticeships for ‘all ages, all levels and all sectors’

Simon Ashworth, chief policy officer at the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, agreed that co-investment should be waived immediately for SMEs wanting to employ young apprentices aged 16-24. “This would help the economy and reverse the negative impact on social mobility that the reforms have had in the levy’s first year,” he added.

“Just because there has been a historical definition of a programme, it is a very purist view that says that it cannot change. After all, the economy and the type of jobs market which our children are looking at is changing dramatically, so AELP believes that apprenticeships should be for all ages, all levels and all sectors.

“The legal definition of an apprenticeship and the common ingredients of all standards should ensure that the acquiring of new skills and competence is part of any programme with the right quality assurance framework in place. Both Ofsted and Ofqual have a key role to play in deciding whether a quality learning experience is being delivered and then the market in the form of employers will use their judgements to decide how they want to spend their own money.”

Shortfall in levy spending 'likely to continue'

In response to the report by think thank Reform, David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said the changes which have been made in the last year have been profound and it is important that to take to time to understand and appreciate what has happened before making further changes. "This report has some interesting ideas which should be considered and there have been many other contributions in recent months which are also worthy of debate.

“The expected shortfall in levy spending in the first year will inevitably continue into the second year. That gives some funding for the government to make investments where things are not working so well. We hope that they take that opportunity and work with employers, colleges, training providers and others to build the programme in terms of quality, access and outcomes.”

Fundamentally changed apprenticeships

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We want to see people of all ages and backgrounds getting the excellent training they need to succeed in a wide range of jobs, and we are changing the apprenticeship system to do just that.

“Our reforms have fundamentally changed what apprenticeships are, as we made it a requirement that all apprenticeships must be real paid jobs lasting for a minimum of 12 months, with at least 20 per cent off-the-job training. Quality is at the heart of our reforms, and the apprenticeship levy is an important part of that – creating sustainable investment in skills training.

“We’re pleased to see an increase in people starting our new, higher-quality apprenticeship standards in a whole range of industries from nuclear to fashion, law, banking and defence. These apprenticeships are designed by employers themselves, to give people and businesses the skills they really need.”

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