Study calls for fundamental reform of apprenticeships in UK

According to a new paper by The Work Foundation, a complete overhaul of the apprenticeship system in the UK is needed.

The Road Less Travelled? Improving the apprenticeship pathway for young people” stresses that the current system, which was designed when manufacturing and production industries were dominant, needs a radical overhaul.

According to the report, change is needed to provide young people with strong vocational pathways into the labour market and help tackle the UK’s youth unemployment crisis.

The analysis finds that the current model is not functioning as an effective pathway from education into work, with just 6% of 16-18 year olds enrolled on an apprenticeship programme in 2011. Instead, the recent rise in the number starting apprenticeships is explained by an increasing take up amongst those aged over-25 with many of those starters (71% in 2011) already being existing employees.

Of particular concern is the prevalence of level two apprenticeships (equivalent to five GCSEs) – 68% of under-25s (2011) – compared to Europe where level three (equivalent to two A Levels) is the norm.

The report goes on to identify how demand for apprenticeships among young people currently outstrips the supply despite a fragmented system of careers advice and guidance. This situation will only worsen in the coming years when the age of compulsory participation in education or training rises to 18 in 2015, unless better careers advice is offered and a greater number of employers engage in the system and offer more quality places.

Katy Jones, author, said: “Youth unemployment has been rising since the early 2000s and has remained at around one million for some time now. A coherent apprenticeship policy would go a long way in helping to tackle this crisis. But apprenticeship policy is currently in flux and has, so far, failed to take account of the long-term shift towards a service economy.

“There must be clearer guidance around the national apprenticeship wage – for both employers and apprentices – especially in sectors such as social care, where a relatively high proportion of apprentices are paid below the legal minimum. Employers who do not meet this should be sanctioned, and recognise that the minimum wage provides a minimum floor. Where possible employers should be encouraged to pay apprentices more.”