Confusion will harm growing reputation of apprenticeships

I read with interest, and a little frustration, the articles covering the Lords' economic affairs committee report on apprenticeships and the National Apprenticeship Service (FE Focus, July 18). The following observations will be recognised by providers who are working with employers every day, promoting and delivering apprenticeships throughout the UK.

Firstly, if apprenticeships are to continue to be successful there does need to be a single responsibility at ministerial level. If the FE sector feels that it is the Cinderella service, apprenticeship programme providers are sometimes seen as the ugly sisters. A high level advocate would represent a major step in establishing apprenticeships as essential to the UK economy.

The current situation is this: apprenticeship providers are by far and away the key organisations promoting apprenticeship programmes to employers across the country. The success of employer-led provision to date is due to the work of these providers.

Secondly, I am afraid that the introduction of the National Apprenticeship Service will add to the confusion in determining who is best placed to persuade employers to embrace apprenticeships. The Lords committee feels the removal of Train to Gain brokers would make apprenticeship programmes even more successful. While providers generally agree with this belief, they also have difficulty in seeing how the NAS will improve matters. Few details are available.

Finally, persuading employers to fully engage with the apprenticeships programme and provide opportunities is not easy. Providers spend a lot of time, energy and money banging the drum. This is the direct link to employers that ministers are looking for.

Employers who are sold on the value of apprenticeships also spend a lot of time, energy and money on supporting their young employees. They are not going to be too keen, after making this investment, to see their young prospects being directed back into full-time education.

Employers see apprenticeships as a key element in improving the skills of their workforce and their support is vital. Any confusion about the purpose of apprenticeships will only damage their growing reputation.

Much more clarity is required in selling the benefits of apprenticeships if they are to contribute to the world class skills agenda we are all working towards.

John Herman, managing director, Intec Business Colleges.

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