The apprenticeship levy in its current form is holding businesses back and the system should be based “around business and learner demand, not government diktat,” according to Neil Carberry, managing director of people and infrastructure at the CBI.
Making a keynote speech at a conference on apprenticeships held in London to mark the first anniversary of the apprenticeship levy, he said: “The grim truth is that we are great at skills policy…we just never do any delivery. That’s the thing that has to change.”
At the event last Friday, organised by the Education Policy Institute (EPI), JPMorgan Chase Foundation, and German thinktank Bertelsmann-Stiftung, Mr Carberry referred to “frustration” among employers about the current system.
He described the government’s target of having 3 million apprenticeship starts by 2020 as “meaningless if you don’t deliver that progression into a good career”.
To deliver “high-value apprenticeships at scale” relies on firms adopting the apprenticeship model and a supply side that is responsive to “the need and demand that firms generate”.
Although the apprenticeship standards “are pushing us in the right direction” the levy on companies “is actively pulling us back the other way,” he said.
Mr Carberry added: “By its inflexible design the levy mitigates against real innovation in delivery of apprenticeships in England”.
Calls for change
He remarked: “It’s a grim truth of our skills sector that for most of the past few decades the client in the system has not been the learner or the employer, it has been the government. Provision has been shaped to match what government will fund next”.
This can no long be the case, he said: “From here on in, that has to change…we need a system that shapes around business and learner demand, not government diktat”.
There are grounds for optimism, according to Mr Carberry: “We are not far from an apprenticeship system in England that could really work well. Standards are great, engagement amongst firms is growing”.
But he remarked: “Only a nationally stable skills system with flexibility for firms and learners to act in their own best long term interests at a local and sectoral level can really deliver”.
Apprenticeships and skills minister Anne Milton said: “Our reforms have fundamentally changed apprenticeships for the better. Apprenticeships standards with an end point assessment are developed by employers working with the Institute of Apprenticeships”.
She described apprenticeships as “a recognised qualification” and “a stepping stone to a successful career”.