Government’s skills adviser questions ‘mad’ apprenticeship target

Baroness Wolf, the author of the 2011 government-commissioned Wolf review on vocational training, has questioned the Tories’ recently announced apprenticeship target, describing it as “mad and artificial”.

Low-skill, low-pay

According to new figures reported in the Independent, thousands of young people are being pushed into low-skill, low-pay training schemes in order to meet the Tory ministers’ target of creating three million apprenticeships by 2020.

The government’s most recent figures were analysed by by the Campaign for Science and Engineering, which found that between August 2014 and January this year only 7,500 degree-level apprenticeships were started.

Of those, 92,000 were advanced meaning they were equivalent to two A-level passes. However, the majority of apprenticeships, 148,300, were classed as “intermediate”, equivalent to five GCSE passes.

The national newspaper said that 60 per cent of new apprentices were studying for those intermediate qualifications and, in a stark contrast, less than 3 per cent of new apprenticeships were at the advanced level.

Baroness Wolf said “it is a mad and artificial political target which risks undermining the reputation of apprenticeships”.

She then continued by adding, “What the Government should be doing is concentrating on those high-value apprenticeships which teach vocational skills in manufacturing and engineering which historically Britain has been bad at fostering.

‘Simply cannot be done’

This is not the first time the government’s apprenticeship policy sparked a response from the Baroness. When the pledge was originally announced in June, Baroness Wolf said that creating three million apprenticeships by 2020 simply “cannot be done”.

Instead she said how a levy should be imposed against all businesses to fund the programme.

“The danger is that money and resources is put into hitting a meaningless numerical target,” Baroness Wolf recently added.

A new business levy

The government recently announced that it is leading a consultation into a new employers’ levy to help fund apprenticeships as well the creation of new “Trailblazer” schemes where employers come together to design their own apprenticeship standards and assessments.

STEM skills shortage

However, Labour’s shadow Business Secretary Chuka Umunna has said it was “scandalous” that in 2013-14 only 140 apprenticeships out of 250,000 were in science and maths.

“Britain has a dire shortage of STEM [science, technology, engineering and maths] skills, and this demonstrates that ministers are not addressing this problem,” he said.