Apprenticeship starts are the means to an end, not an end in themselves, a new report says as it calls on the government to place greater emphasis on outcomes such as secure employment, reports Aban Contractor.
Government plans to attract three million more apprentices lack focus and will not fill widening skills gaps unless they concentrate on sectors and regions where training is most needed, a cross-party parliamentary report to be published today has found.
The sub-committee on education, skills and the economy said the government’s apprenticeship levy – to begin next week – and target of three million ‘starts’ by the end of the Parliament were blunt instruments that risked being unduly focused on simply raising participation levels.
The committee called on the government instead to place greater emphasis on outcomes, judging the success of apprenticeships by, for example, whether individual apprentices secure employment. It also raised concerns that the target of three million could hamper attempts to raise quality of provision.
“The three million target is a useful symbol of the government’s commitment to apprenticeships, but it must guard against the perception that it [is] the only measure of success. Apprenticeship starts are the means to an end, not an end in themselves,” the report, Apprenticeships, said.
“We recommend that alongside the three million starts target, the Government outlines far clearer outcome measures for individual apprentices. These should include programme completion, progression to higher levels and subsequent achievement of secure relevant employment. It should publish an annual survey of performance against these measures.
Official figures show just 67 per cent of apprenticeships were completed in 2015-16
“The government has not set out how its increase in apprenticeship numbers will help fill the country’s skills gaps. The current balance of provision is skewed towards sectors with low wage returns and few skills shortages and we are not convinced that tinkering with funding bands will bring about the major changes necessary. The government already makes immigration decisions on the basis of identified skills shortages; it should make greater use of this existing knowledge.”
Neil Carmichael MP, co-chair of the committee, said apprenticeships were vital to closing the skills gap which could grow wider after Brexit.
“We must train our young people for jobs that the economy needs, but the government has failed to show how its three million target and levy [to be paid by all employers operating in the United Kingdom with a pay bill over £3 million each year to invest in apprenticeships] will help achieve this,” he said.
“Ministers must recognise that apprenticeships are a means to an end and not an end in themselves. They need to place greater emphasis on outcomes, focussing on areas of the economy where training is most needed, and ensuring quantity does not trump quality.
“… We fully support the Government’s attempts to improve the prestige of apprenticeships, but it will take more than words to achieve this aim. If the quality is there the prestige will follow.”
The government has not set out how its increase in apprenticeship numbers will help fill the country’s skills gaps. The current balance of provision is skewed towards sectors with low wage returns and few skills shortages
A survey by the United Kingdom Commission for Employment and Skills found 209,500 reported skilled vacancies, a rise of 43 per cent from the 146,000 reported in 2013. This is despite apprenticeship ‘starts’ increasing to 509,400 in 2015-16, according to official figures.
The Committee recommends that the government publishes an annual report setting out the skills shortages on a national, regional and sector-specific basis and sets clear targets to ensure that the uptake of apprenticeships in these areas is prioritised.
The report also urges the government to produce an annual survey of performance against clear outcome measures such as completions, progressions to higher levels and relevant employment secured. Official figures show just 67 per cent of apprenticeships were completed in 2015-16.
The report welcomes the creation of the Institute for Apprenticeships, which it expects will play a major role in improving quality in the future. However, it cautions that the new body must be given sufficient capacity and independence if it is to succeed.
It also calls for more support for apprentices themselves, which could include changes to the benefits system, more subsidised fares on public transport or even direct financial support such as bursaries.