The Confederation of British Industry thinks Modern Apprenticeships are worth persevering with. George Low reports
UNSUITABILITY, a reluctance to learn and a lack of key skills are contributing to a high drop out rate among modern apprentices, according to a new survey from the Confederation of British Industry revealed this week.
But, despite the repeated failure of apprentices to complete their on-the-job training, CBI members remain firmly in favour of the scheme, with 62 per cent of the 108 firms surveyed saying that Modern Apprenticeships had "significant benefits".
The CBI is calling for a radical rethink of the five-year-old scheme, saying it needs appropriate entrance requirements, greater incentives to stay on and a graduation ceremony to celebrate any successful completion of the apprenticeship.
But they also warned against any attempt to limit funding to the under 19s - 40 per cent of the companies said they would reduce their involvement in the apprenticeships scheme if this happened.
Margaret Murray, head of the CBI learning and skills group, said the survey, coming hot on the heels of a Department for Education and Employment report which showed that two thirds of apprentices did not gain a qualification, was "deeply bothering".
She said: "Like steroid cream, the Government's reforms aimed at upgrading vocational education and training are removing the unsightly spots while failing to get to the roots of the problem." The CBI wants improved funding and greater esteem for vocational training qualifications to encourage more bright youngsters - and adults - to take on apprenticeships.
The employers in the survey point the finger of blame at the schools for not properly informing and advising their 14 to 16-year-old pupils about the myriad advantages of the Modern Apprenticeships scheme.
John Cridland, head of human resources at the CBI, said: "The problem is that not enough bright young people are going on the scheme, but careers guidance in schools is inadequate.
"Man of those who remain in full-time education could achieve far more and have better prospects if they were on an apprenticeship."
Ms Murray added that the new Connexions careers service, promised by the Government, was along the right lines but it depended on a massive retraining of teachers and careers officers. "Under the present arrangements, heads and teachers are too keen to keep on youngsters in the sixth form because of the funding system. The new learning and skills councils must ensure that the young people get the right information on a free and impartial basis."
She added that the employers were very worried that older apprentices should be able to receive equality of funding with the 16 to 19-year-old age group.
"A large percentage of our members want to take on older apprentices and think there should be greater support for them. They also want a broader base of vocational training to include greater knowledge and understanding, learned both on and off the job."
A spokesman for the DFEE said that apprenticeships were an "important alternative" to staying on in education. The Government shared some of the CBI's concerns, which would shortly be addressed in a consultation paper.
"The Secretary of State David Blunkett is strongly committed to high quality work-based training and we will shortly be rebranding the Modern Apprentices into foundation and advanced level courses with off-the-job training in colleges and elsewhere."
Commenting on the CBI survey, Association of Colleges' chief executive David Gibson said the employers had to accept part of the responsibility for what were disappointing figures.
"They cannot shrug their shoulders and blame the schools because they do not have enough bright youngsters. Colleges are pilloried when their student retention rate falls below 80 per cent. The employers clearly have a lot of catching up to do. We recognise that problems exist and look forward to working with the new learning and skills council to try to improve matters."