Skills Minister Matthew Hancock used a speech this week to once again emphasise the importance of apprenticeship reforms. Addressing the audience at the annual conference of the Association of Education Learning Providers (AELP), Hancock pointed out that training quality would benefit from giving employers control over apprenticeship design and funding.
Young people are increasingly coming to see apprenticeships as a viable path to professional success, the minister said. He added that this was the right time for reform of the apprenticeship system to help the UK sustain its economic growth in the future.
As part of the reforms, the government has set up the so-called Trailblazer groups. These employer groups will participate in trials of the funding reforms in 2014 and 2015. Under the new provisions, businesses will get £2 from the government for every £1 they have invested in apprentice training. There will be a limit to the state-provided funds, which will be determined by the nature of the apprenticeship.
The minister commented that the goal is to make apprenticeships the “first choice” for big and small companies alike. By demonstrating its commitment to the reforms, the government is hoping that more companies will be convinced to embrace apprenticeships.
The reform package also includes additional incentives to encourage apprenticeship completion, uptake by small enterprises and enrolment by young people aged 16 to 18. According to Hancock, this simple and fair system will put employers in control of training initiatives in the future.
Vocational qualifications are a great way for youngsters to obtain essential skills. Gaining experience will allow apprentices to realise their full potential and help their employers in the process. High-quality apprenticeships are therefore essential both for learners and employers and the government is counting on the support of the business community to ensure that quality, Hancock said.
Apprenticeships are essential for combating youth unemployment and helping the UK build a strong talent base for the future. The government has initiated a series of reforms to improve the apprenticeship system but priority is being given to solving quality issues and raising standards in sectors with acute skill shortages, for example aerospace, automotive and life sciences. This is definitely a positive development but since the UK economy is predominantly service-based, more attention should be given to improvements in service industries.
This is one of the key recommendations made in a new report from The Work Foundation. In an article for the HR Director website, author Katy Jones outlined the major issues addressed in the policy paper. It welcomes the launch of the Trailblazer pilots as a way to give employers the lead in apprenticeship programme development but also calls for the inclusion of more service industries amongst the Trailblazers. Skill shortages may not be as acute in health and social care, business administration and customer service but these are sectors providing the largest number of employment and apprenticeship opportunities to young Britons.
As Jones pointed out, the service sector is the one typically fighting the hardest battle with issues related to apprenticeship quality, educational content and duration. This presents a significant problem because the UK economy is driven by services: the sector provides 85% of UK jobs and is the first destination for most young people entering the labour market. Moreover, the service sector creates the largest number of apprenticeship positions: eight of the top ten industries by apprentice recruitment in 2011/2012 were service industries, with business administration and customer service among them. It is therefore very important to raise apprenticeship standards in the sector, Jones noted.
The UK government is betting on a string of reforms to improve the apprenticeship system. But according to Lord Adonis, who served as education minister between 2005 and 2008, the UK needs a “revolution” in apprenticeships, which should include a specific focus on youth apprenticeships and bring about a significant increase both in apprenticeship quality and quantity, the Huffington Post reported.
Lord Adonis made these remarks during a skills debate taking part within the annual conference of the British Chambers of Commerce. Addressing his audience, the former Labour government minister described the number of apprenticeships that are available only for up to 12 months as “unacceptable”. He went on to declare that the system clearly needs a fundamental overhaul, especially in the area of youth apprenticeships. It is not enough to make incremental improvements in quality and quantity: a step change is required, he insisted.
According to Lord Adonis, the government should work alongside schools and employers to address an issue of particular importance, namely the quality of career advice received by students. It definitely leaves a lot to be desired and teachers are generally unable to provide proper guidance on apprenticeships and vocational training. That issue will not be resolved without prompt action and Lord Adonis advocates the introduction of “senior” people whose main responsibility will be maintaining contact with local employers and helping young people secure apprentice positions. UK schools should have people with a keen understanding of the local employment landscape and employers, encouraging the latter to create more apprenticeship opportunities for local youngsters and providing advice to young people, Lord Adonis said.
Many companies in the Thames Valley region find it hard to recruit young people with the right skills. It is therefore hardly surprising that they consider apprenticeships very important for building their talent base, stating that vocational training beats university when it comes to preparing young people for working life.
This has been established through the first Skills, Education and Recruitment Survey in the region. Led by hiring specialist Hays, the poll involved about 100 local enterprises.
The results showed that 58% of employers were primarily driven to recruit in order to grow their business. But finding people with the right skills proves a challenge for 61% of Thames Valley companies. According to 68% of the sample, apprenticeships do a better job than universities at getting young people ready for work life.
Local employers rank attitude as the top criterion for candidate suitability. For 73% of companies, attitude trumps qualifications and experience in the choice of new staff.
Commenting on the survey results, Hays Specialist Recruitment managing director Mark Sheldon said that more and more employers were looking for people with a learning aptitude. Companies are increasingly prioritising a candidate’s ability to learn new skills over their current expertise and experience. Now that the economy has returned to growth, more employment opportunities will be springing up and business organisations will have to work harder to attract and retain employees. Training and skills development should be included in the whole package employers put on offer so that they can build a workforce prepared for the constantly changing business environment, Sheldon added.
At the start of this week, the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) announced the launch of a programme designed to improve apprenticeship delivery. Commissioned by the Education and Training Foundation, the Apprenticeship Staff Support Programme (ASSP) will provide £1.5 million in funding to projects that can improve apprenticeship outcomes for both employers and trainees.
Phase One of the programme is already under way and organisations can submit their bids, applying either alone or as part of a consortium, NIACE said. Priority will be given to projects that promote employer involvement in apprenticeship delivery and/or focus on further improvement in curriculum design, teaching, learning and assessment.
The plan is to choose eight to 24 projects in the first phase and distribute up to £717,000 of the total funding pot. If a project turns out to be particularly successful, it will be considered for expansion during Phase Two of the ASSP, which will begin later in the year.
NIACE section director Fiona Aldridge said that apprenticeships had amply demonstrated their importance for the development of vital skills and the provision of support for people to enter work. NIACE is working alongside the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to promote further improvement in apprenticeship quality and ensure fair access for every applicant. The launch of the ASSP is the latest step in that direction and a particularly important one in light of current apprenticeship reforms. The programme will advance efforts to tackle skill shortages through high-quality apprenticeships that cater to the needs of all stakeholders, Aldridge added.
The biggest names in the corporate world have long relied on apprenticeships, with most top engineering and manufacturing companies running apprenticeship programmes. Rolls-Royce, BAE Systems, BMW, British Airways, Network Rail – these are just a few examples of corporate heavyweights swearing by apprenticeships. The message has reached the small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) sector but more of its representatives should embrace apprenticeships, making the most of government incentives to nurture talent and drive growth, according to Gary David Smith.
In an article for the Training Journal, the IT entrepreneur points out that this is a great time for SMEs to recruit apprentices. In the latest sign of its commitment to the apprenticeship cause, the government recently announced an extra support package: the Apprenticeship Grant for Employers (AGE) scheme will receive a further £170 million and another £20 million will be allocated for support of degree-level and post-graduate apprenticeships. This funding, specifically targeted at the SME sector, is expected to help create 100,000 new apprenticeships. The AGE scheme contributed to the creation of 49,300 new apprenticeships between February 2012 and October 2013, with another 15,800 in the planning stage.
According to Smith, the government’s financial incentives are more than welcome but it is also crucial to deliver properly designed apprenticeships. This means that skills training programmes must aim for “the right balance between learning and doing,” as Smith puts it. He also believes that the government should expand the AGE scheme in a way that makes it possible for SMEs to engage with young people while they are still in full-time education.