Apprentices need one face
Lords committee says too many ministers have a hand in vocational training and calls for more promotion of schemes
A single minister should be responsible for apprenticeships to ensure a clear focus for work-based vocational training, according to a report from the House of Lords.
The Lords' economic affairs committee said apprenticeships should be spared the effects of the departmental split that puts pre- and post-19 education under the scope of two Cabinet ministers.
With no upper age limit on apprenticeships - which are now being undertaken by people aged 14 to beyond retirement age - it says the scheme needs a clear focus.
Apprenticeships are expected to be largely responsible for the increasing numbers that will emerge after the education and training leaving age is raised to 18 in 2015.
Colleges or private training providers work with employers to train new recruits to level 2 (GCSE equivalent) and level 3 (A-level equivalent) in vocational subjects specific to their careers.
Lord Vallance, chairman of the committee, said: "We are disappointed that the new National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) will not be directly accountable to a single minister. We feel this is vital to ensure that the political will and pressure to make the scheme a success is maintained.
"We also feel that more should be done to encourage small and medium-sized businesses to offer apprenticeships. The best way to do this would be to pay fees directly to those firms rather than go through bureaucratic quangos."
At present, apprenticeships, like colleges, come under both the Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills. The committee said it remained "unconvinced" about the arrangement, despite an assurance from John Denham, the Skills Secretary, that the two departments are working well together.
Ministers have said an apprenticeship will be available to every suitably qualified teenager who wants one by 2013.
"This is a laudable objective but a tall order. We remain to be convinced that sufficient funding will be made available to underwrite the guarantee," the report said.
It also called for a minimum of one day a week of off-the-job training to be agreed for apprenticeships and for more trainees to progress to higher education.
The committee also raised concern about the lack of promotion of apprenticeships in schools and said children should fully understand their options before they are 14.
David Way, apprenticeship director for the Learning and Skills Council, said: "Ministers will take a decision on how the National Apprenticeship Service reports to government.
"The NAS will have direct contact with employers to help many more take on apprentices. It will work with existing brokers and training providers to ensure they promote apprenticeships effectively to business. This will maximise the impact and ensure employers do not receive multiple calls."
He added: "The NAS is already working with the Higher Education Funding Council for England and Ucas to make it easier for apprentices to continue into higher education. This opportunity for progression is very important to apprentices and their parents."
Last week, Mr Denham and David Lammy, the skills minister, both announced that they planned to have apprentices in their own private offices.
Leading article, page 4.