The apprenticeship system is currently going through massive change. With the introduction of the apprenticeship levy, employer interest and public awareness around apprenticeships is growing. However, while the apprenticeship system has greatly improved, it needs to develop further to make apprenticeships work better for employers, learners and providers.
The value of apprenticeships as a basic social good is beyond debate, especially considering the challenges that the UK now faces. Our productivity is the lowest of the G7 countries and we continue to face profound skill shortages in key industries. It’s difficult to predict what Brexit will do and while a robot won’t be taking your job quite yet,we do need to consider the impact of automation and artificial intelligence on the workforce.
We are in a time of significant change and disruption. Industries and economies are changing at the blink of an eye. So a highly skilled and adaptable workforce with technical capacity will play a pivotal role. Based on our "Making apprenticeships work for all" publication, we are going to focus on the areas that need to change to ensure that the UK has a skilled workforce that is able to compete on the global stage.
Vital for success
We see three crucial areas that will be vital to the success of apprenticeships and the long-term success of the UK economy.
The first area is apprenticeship demographics and challenging cultural notions about who should undertake an apprenticeship. There is still stigmatisation around apprenticeships being for other people’s children, and more needs to be done to encourage apprenticeship uptake by young people. To address these issues, we call for the enhancing of careers advice and guidance, especially in schools, to encourage apprenticeship growth in all areas.
Secondly, there needs to be sensible adjustments to the apprenticeship system to make it work better for employers and the wider economy. Only 8 per cent of the apprenticeship levy pot has been used in its first year, which reflects on structural issues with the system. The chancellor announced some new flexibilities in the Budget, but they are only a start.
We propose more flexibility in how employers can utilise their levy funds. Importantly, we urgently call on the Department for Education to ringfence unspent levy contributions to ensure that they are directed towards apprenticeship training – we can’t risk funds disappearing into the consolidated fund and used to fund other public services.
Quality in apprenticeships
Finally, we looked at how we could embed quality at every level in our system and ensure that we are focusing on outcomes, not inputs. We advocate the adoption of a regulatory framework to ensure quality in all aspects of apprenticeship provision. If we are going to change the perception of apprenticeships, and if career advisers are to sell their benefits, they need to be able to sell a reliable, quality-assured product.
So we need to work together to press for the small changes that can make a real difference in how the apprenticeship system functions. Apprenticeships will play a crucial role in delivering a credible and respected system of technical education, and Collab Group colleges want to help lead this transformation.
You can read the full report here.
Ian Pretty is chief executive of the Collab Group of colleges