The number of apprentices who receive less than the minimum wage is "unhelpful" to efforts to boost the wider prestige of the programme, according to the chair of the Institute for Apprenticeships (IfA). In his first interview since taking up the post, Antony Jenkins told Tes "anything that undermines the brand of apprenticeships [was] not acceptable".
This came after a pay survey published in July found that almost a fifth of apprentices at level 2 and 3 were being paid less than the minimum wage. The current minimum wage for apprentices is £3.50 per hour. This applies to apprentices under 19, as well as those aged 19 or over who are in their first year of the programme.
"Apart from the fact that people not paying what is required under the law is clearly illegal, it's also incredibly unhelpful to what we're trying to do here," Mr Jenkins said.
The mission of the IfA, which has a budget just shy of £10 million for 2017-18, is simple: “ensuring high-quality apprenticeship standards”. At present, it has three main jobs: approving and supporting the development of apprenticeship standards; advising on funding levels for different standards and quality assuring the final assessments taken by apprentices.
To date, more than 80 employees have been hired. Once the IfA’s remit expands next spring to oversee technical education, its workforce will number more than 120.
Among them, eventually, will be its first permanent chief executive. The role was advertised in April, but no appointment has yet been made. Serial senior civil servant Peter Lauener holds the post on a temporary basis, having postponed his retirement until a leader is found.
In the meantime, chair Antony Jenkins is the institute's public face. And former Barclays chief executive has a big job on his hands. The institute’s first six months have been dogged with questions about its long-term future.
Doomed to failure?
Shadow FE minister Gordon Marsden has repeatedly questioned whether the IfA has the resources necessary to carry out its functions effectively.
And former Department for Education ministerial adviser Tom Richmond has even recently argued in the pages of Tes that the fledgling institute could already be “doomed to failure”.
Speaking to Tes, Jenkins acknowledged that there was much work still to be done.
“This country has had a long history of attempting to create an effective system of apprenticeships and technical education,” he said. “And many of those, if not all of those initiatives, have failed. The track record, looking back, is not particularly encouraging.
“I feel very strongly that the structure that we have in place now is the right structure, and that we have the right resources in place to deliver. And, with the right time, discipline and focus, we will achieve the objective of having a viable system of apprenticeships and technical education.”
A number of “very strong candidates” will be interviewed for the CEO role after the summer break, Jenkins said, with the post to be filled “by the end of the year, probably sooner”.
If he was frustrated by the delays, he did not show it. “I personally believe it is always worth taking the time to get the very best person for the role,” he explained, “and that’s what we’re doing.”
This is an edited version of an article in the 8 September edition of Tes. Subscribers can read the full article here. To subscribe, click here. This week's Tes magazine is available at all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here.