Apprenticeships are failing young people, the economy and businesses, finds Ofsted report

A report from education watchdog Ofsted has found that the apprenticeship sector is systematically failing millions of people around the UK, including schoolchildren, adult learners, SMEs and training providers.


Damning report

Apprenticeships: developing skills for future prosperity was released on the 22nd October, but has been at the centre of discussion within the apprenticeship community for a number of days.

Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw (pictured, above) commissioned this survey to investigate the quality of apprenticeships under the current system so that the findings can be used to help with government reforms.

The report is based from visits to 22 apprenticeship providers, including schools, colleges and apprenticeship providers that care for over 19,000 learners.

Ofsted also carried out 23 further inspections of further education and skills providers between January and April 2015, as well as interviewing 300 employers and 900 apprentices, conducting a thorough analysis of how apprentices are getting on in multiple sectors. In total Ofsted interviewed 1,400 people.

Recently Apprentice Eye revealed that the report would uncover multiple shortcomings within the sector, including how the government is failing to uphold high standards during its drive to create three million new apprenticeships.


What does the report say about apprenticeships?

The government has been working hard to increase apprenticeship numbers, with two million roles being created since 2010 due to an increase in funding.

Ofsted has revealed that the surge in numbers is occurring mainly in the customer service, retail, administration and care sectors, where low paid, low skilled workers aren’t learning enough skills.

One of the reasons that the apprentices aren’t gaining enough skills is because there is ‘‘too much weak provision that undermines the value of apprenticeships,’’ particularly with young learners (16-25 year olds).

The report also found that:

  • Apprentices in the retail sector were gaining accreditation by simply making coffee, serving food and cleaning floors.
  • Some apprentices were completely unaware that they were even undertaking one. This enabled Ofsted to ask the question: are these apprenticeships worthy of the name?
  • Apprentices are failing to gain skills due to a lack of collaboration between employers and providers.
  • Some employers and providers are wasting public money and abusing the trust of government and apprentices.
  • ‘Traditional’ apprenticeships – ones within the motor vehicle, construction and engineering industries have a much better success rate than other sectors – with many apprentices commanding a salary that is ‘‘better than those of graduates completing degree-level courses at middle-ranking universities.’’
  • Ofsted states that the Conservative’s ‘‘ambition to boost the number of apprenticeships is commendable,’’ but it’s at risk of putting quantity before quality.
  • Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are being failed by the apprenticeship sector, as business owners are not getting enough support from providers.
  • There are not enough 16-18 year olds undertaking apprenticeships. The recruitment drive for this age group has remained static for ten years. This year saw a record number for students going to university.
  • Secondary schools are failing to promote apprenticeships to its students, which is just one of the many barriers they face when searching for an apprenticeship.
  • Employers are not making enough contributions towards funding apprenticeships, but this is set to change in 2017 with an apprenticeship tax on all large businesses operating in the UK.


Schools are ‘failing to prepare young people’

Wilshaw is now demanding that employers, providers and businesses act quickly to improve the sector, claiming that the current framework in which just five per cent of 16 year-olds gain an apprenticeship is a ‘‘disaster.’’

‘‘Too many of our schools are failing to prepare young people for the world of work. Even where they do, the careers advice on offer isn’t encouraging enough youngsters into vocational routes that would serve them best,’’ explained Wilshaw.

‘‘Our report today lays bare what many have long suspected. Despite the increase in numbers, very few apprenticeships are delivering the professional, up-to-date skills in the sectors that need them most.’’

‘‘Being an apprentice should be a badge of honour,’’ added Wilshaw, who said that the UK is at risk of developing a two-tier system of high and low apprenticeships, something that could prove disastrous for the employment sector in future years.


What can be done to help the apprenticeship sector?

Ofsted has recommended a number of changes to the apprenticeship sector, including more apprenticeship information in schools, more funding for high-quality apprenticeships and a focus on the ‘‘industries with the strongest demand for a skilled workforce.’’

Sir Michael also called for greater co-ordination within local government, including more help from small businesses.

‘‘The overriding problem has been, is and will continue to be one of organisation. Unless there is a very clear organisational structure around apprenticeships the government’s ambitions will remain unmet.’’

‘‘Employers have got to take ownership. Why isn’t there a recognised structure to deliver apprenticeships at a local level? If the great majority of employers are SMEs, employing fewer than 20 people, how can they fully engage if they don’t know where to turn?’’

‘‘This is my challenge to you. Organise yourselves. It’s no use waiting for others to put structures in place and then bemoan the lack of progress made. Use your networks and knowledge to find solutions.’’


How has the apprenticeship sector reacted to this report?

The Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) has lashed out at the findings, claiming that the ‘true picture of apprenticeships’ is not presented in the report.

The AELP will be issuing a full briefing paper on the Ofsted report, but in the meantime, CEO Stewart Segal has released a statement, criticising Ofsted for focusing too much ‘‘on data and technical measures such as completion and timely completion.’’

‘‘Too often measures like completion rates are misunderstood,’’ said Segal. ‘‘Although we may want more apprentices to finish their programmes, we have to understand that many of those early leavers will have made decisions about their career direction and changed jobs or employer.’’

In terms of the criticisms of particular types of programmes, we have always believed that more apprentices should progress through to higher level programmes.’’

‘‘However the need to develop high quality entry level programmes has never been more important.  In sectors such as care and hospitality, the training of core staff is key to the delivery of high quality services in sectors where the level of professional standards has to rise to meet the new standards demanded by the market. However we are working with employers to encourage them to offer progression to higher levels.”