The current apprenticeship system leans too heavily towards qualified employees, as opposed to school leavers, according to a new report.
The report by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), published today, says one of the reasons for this is that some employers use apprenticeship levy funds to rebadge existing training, or to accredit skills that existing staff already have. It adds that polling has shown that over one in six levy-paying employers used levy funds to rebadge existing training or to accredit skills that existing staff already had in the year prior to being surveyed.
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“While our apprenticeships system should play a part in reskilling established workers, it must not crowd out opportunities for people who are about to join the market – particularly during the pandemic, which is rapidly extinguishing their prospects. The scarring effects of youth unemployment are deep and we must do all we can to avert them,” the report says.
Pupils 'know too little about apprenticeships'
According to the CSJ, “pupils know too little about apprenticeships”. “There is a lack of good quality information, advice and guidance on apprenticeships in schools, and some schools are not adhering to legislation that aims to give pupils more access to information about apprenticeships. Employers, too, are often unaware of the support that exists to help them."
Apprenticeships, the report says, should be “right at the heart of our skills and learning infrastructure”. “And yet we have not yet realised their enormous transformative potential.”
The report points out that apprenticeships at level 2 “are in free fall, and their demise affects disadvantaged people, who are more likely to undertake them”.
It adds that while the overall number of apprenticeships dropped by a quarter between 2014-15 and 2018-19, higher-level apprenticeships “have, in fact, grown substantially”. “Their proliferation should be a good news story. And yet disadvantaged individuals have relatively poor access to them," the report says. "A number of factors compound this problem: disadvantaged families are less likely to know about them than their peers; careers advice in schools often leans strongly towards academic routes; and university outreach does not focus enough on them.”
The report adds that there is “considerable untapped potential for apprenticeships among SMEs [small and medium-sized enterprises]" and the country's current approach "risks suppressing demand on an imposing scale”.
Association of Employment and Learning Providers managing director Jane Hickie said the CSJ was "absolutely right to talk up how vital it is for the government to support starter level (level 2) apprenticeships. She added: “The pandemic couldn’t have come at a worse time for this year’s school-leavers and AELP strongly supports the CSJ’s recommendation that the government should go back to fully funding the apprenticeships of 16 to 18 year olds out of its mainstream budgets instead of relying on the levy.
"Until the lockdown, the levy system was failing to meet the demand for apprenticeships from small and medium sized businesses who have traditionally offered the majority of opportunities to young people at the lower levels and therefore the report has correctly highlighted the need for ministers to show a greater commitment in restoring some balance within the funding system.
“Prior to the chancellor’s summer statement, AELP argued for a wage subsidy for 16 to 24 year old apprentices as part of the post-pandemic response and we are now very concerned that the wage subsidies available under Kickstart will displace potential new apprenticeship opportunities. We are naturally pleased then that the CSJ has thrown its weight behind the call.
“The report isn’t just about social justice for young people. It demonstrates the value of apprenticeships in terms of improving the UK’s woeful track-record in productivity by citing research which shows that three-quarters of apprentice employers say that the programme has increased their business’s productivity. We therefore support the CSJ’s recommendation that we must get much more savvy on how we measure improvements on a regular basis."
Ms Hickie urged the government to act quickly on the CSJ’s recommendations. "We owe it to the young people looking for a better future.”
The Department for Education has been approached for comment.