Our focus on apprenticeships is bearing fruit, says Hayes
Colleges have been rebuked by skills minister John Hayes for failing to pump enough money into apprenticeships - but the Government insists it is on target to recruit an extra 50,000 apprentices this year.
Mr Hayes said he has written to around 20 colleges which had failed to transfer money previously allocated for Train to Gain into apprenticeships.
In an interview with FE Focus to mark Apprenticeship Week, he also insisted colleges and providers were now on course to meet the ambitious recruitment target.
The surprising claim comes after the Skills Funding Agency revealed in December that take-up was "slightly below" the tough targets set by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
"It looks as though all the concentration we have been putting on apprenticeships is beginning to bear fruit," Mr Hayes said.
"But I wouldn't want to be complacent; I am aware there is more work to be done."
The minister also stressed that he is keen to see an apprenticeship become more prestigious than a degree. "Parity is the least I want," he added. "I have bigger ambitions than that."
He plans to introduce graduation ceremonies for apprentices when they complete courses as part of a push to improve the "aesthetic of apprenticeships".
Mr Hayes said: "I want to improve the status of apprenticeships because they are so valued by employers."
He announced this week that apprenticeship frameworks are to be renamed to "confer greater recognition and status on those who successfully complete their apprenticeships".
Level 2 apprenticeships, equivalent to GCSEs, will be known as intermediate-level apprenticeships. Those at level 3, equivalent to A- levels, will be renamed advanced-level apprenticeships. Higher apprenticeships will retain their current title.
The new names have been designed to "make it clear that apprentices can progress to higher stages of learning through the apprenticeships programme, including to university".
Mr Hayes also criticised Ed Miliband after the Labour leader accused the Government of "betraying" young people by scrapping the guarantee of an apprenticeship for 17 and 18-year-olds.
"Ed is a young man who has a lot to learn," he said. "What he has to understand is that the offer has to be legitimate, honest."
He described Mr Miliband's claim as "at the very edge of being disingenuous", arguing that the Government will fund "anyone who secures an apprenticeship place", but could not guarantee one would be available in any circumstance.
He added: "We will continue our marketing campaign and, in some cases, intensify it . We will analyse our marketing so far and look at gaps . where we need more support in parts of the country."
Addressing the issue of colleges which have failed to dedicate sufficient funding to apprenticeships, Mr Hayes said: "I have written to a group of colleges which have done less of that. We will work with colleges to see what can be done to help them to shift funds (towards apprenticeships)."
At the launch of Apprenticeship Week on Monday (7 February), business secretary Vince Cable praised firms which have increased their apprenticeship schemes, such as British Airways, BT, British Gas, Superdrug and Procter amp; Gamble. The Government aims to deliver 100,000 more apprenticeships by 2014.
"I want to reinforce the message to business and young people that apprenticeships are a first-class way to start a career," Mr Cable said.
"Some of the most prestigious companies in England - large and small, public and private - employ apprentices and benefit from doing so. More than 30 per cent of Rolls-Royce apprentices have progressed to senior management roles within the company.
"And 80 per cent of those who employ apprentices agree that they make the workplace more productive. I'm calling on more businesses to follow this lead."