Direct link to employers `vital' for apprenticeships
Ministers should clear away a layer of red tape if they want to succeed in their plan to increase the take-up of apprenticeships, warns a report from the House of Lords.
A new National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) being set up to woo firms into taking on apprentices must be allowed to speak to employers without an intermediary if it is to be effective, says the report.
Ministers claim the new service will be a strong advocate of apprenticeships, but the Lords are concerned it will fail if forced to work through the Train to Gain system.
Train to Gain brokers act as a vocational dating agency, linking colleges and other training providers with employers who want to boost the skills of their workforce with the aid of government-subsidised tuition.
The service also supports short vocational courses and has become the central thrust of ministers' attempts to improve the skills of the nation's workforce.
The NAS should be able to bypass Train to Gain and speak directly to employers about what apprenticeship training can do for their businesses, ministers have been told.
The report, by the Lords' economic affairs committee, is published as apprenticeships are once again in the spotlight. Last week the National Apprenticeship Awards, celebrating the best trainees, employers and training providers associated with the programme, were hosted in London.
With more apprentices in the workplace than ever before - there are currently 240,000 - the Lords believe the scheme could be even more successful if ministers removed the Train to Gain brokers from the process.
John Denham, Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, had told the committee that the new service would "lead on banging the drum for the number of apprenticeships".
But the report shows committee members are sceptical about the minister's claim.
It said: "We fear the NAS will have difficulty in carrying out its responsibilities. It will not be contacting employers themselves. Instead, the initial point of contact will be through the Learning and Skills Council's Train to Gain brokers in order to avoid duplication of cold calling. It is essential for the service to deal with employers directly to ensure a surge in apprenticeship places.
"How can it `lead on banging the drum', as suggested by the Secretary of State, when it is barred from contacting employers directly?"
Leading article, page 4.