JRF: Apprentice provision must be reformed

Following a week where the government laid out its plan to improve the scope and quality of apprenticeships through the introduction of the Apprentice Levy, poverty and social mobility charity the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has expressed its concern over recent Ofsted figures that showed around half of apprenticeship providers are rated as inadequate.

The figures relate to 2015, and show that of the 190 apprenticeship programmes inspected in 2015 by Ofsted, 72 were judged to require improvement and 21 were inadequate. That in turn means that around 73,000 apprentices were provided with substandard training packages.

The Ofsted figures also suggest that: “Too many apprenticeships simply accredit low-level existing skills, which add little value to the companies or to apprentices’ wage progression.”

The Foundation, which campaigns on issues of social justice, youth unemployment and inclusion, also pointed out that the amount of investment is being channeled into too narrow a selection of apprentice bands, leading to a persistent skills gap in some sectors. Between 2006 and 2014, for instance, the Foundation found that “The number of apprentices in business administration and law, retail, and health and care increased by over 200% vs 33% increase in same period in number of apprentices in construction, planning and built environment, engineering and information technology.”


‘Young people and employers being let down’

Helen Barnard, head of analysis at JRF, said: “The government deserves credit for creating more apprenticeship places, but must do more drive up the patchy quality on offer. We need to reform the system for the half of the young people who do not go to university, so they are able to find a well-paid job with prospects after their apprenticeship has finished.”

“Apprenticeships are crucial to help young people into good-quality jobs and provide an alternative to university to find well-paid work. They are also vital to create skilled workers for businesses and for the productivity of our economy.

“But young people and employers are both being let down by a system which emphasises quantity over quality. Too many providers are failing to provide a good standard of training, which undermines apprenticeships’ status and damages them as a brand.

A closer look at the Rowntree report shows the charity has several recommendations to improve the standard and delivery apprenticeships

  • Governments should make providers responsible for the value their apprenticeships add to apprentices’ careers. The government should make a proportion of apprenticeship funding contingent on whether apprentices are employed and/or have higher earnings six months after they complete their apprenticeship.
  • Governments across the UK should focus on improving the quality of apprenticeships and of access to high-quality opportunities. This should be prioritised over further expansion.
  • Developing an Apprentice Charter with business and young people, tailored to different sectors and setting standards to drive up the quality of training and outcome after a place has finished. This could include:
    • Measures on employment and pay six months after completing the apprenticeship
    • Whether someone is given a mentor
    • How much experience they gain in different parts of the business.
  • Increasing investment in a high-quality careers advice service, costing £200 million, delivered in school by expert advisers, alongside strong links between schools, local employers and training providers. There should be particular focus on enabling young people to enter high-quality apprenticeships.
  • Local authorities should set up hubs providing careers advice for post-16-year-olds, linking them to high-quality apprenticeships, training and employers.