Reform needed to underpin apprenticeship skills and standards – IPPR

Another important report into the state of apprenticeship provision today. Following yesterday’s research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, today the Institute of Public Policy and Research launched its new report, “England’s Apprenticeships – assessing the new system”.

The headline finding is that the lack of a specialized and recognized qualification backing some schemes leaves some young people in danger of losing out when they come to draw on their transferable skills

The objections centre on the move from frameworks to standards. Frameworks, as currently configured all have a foundation qualification attached, whereas the government’s proposed standards regime will not necessarily require that of all new schemes.

Frameworks, the report says, “work well in sectors of the labour market that consist of large employers who share a strong sense of occupational identity and are committed to training their future workforce” but may not be as successful in other sectors.


‘In danger of failing to meet aims’

The IPPR praises the government’s commitment to apprenticeships as a way of providing viable training routes for young people and tackling the UK’s skills gap, but goes on to say, “However, current apprenticeship policies are in danger of failing to achieve the government’s desired aims.”

IPPR Associate Director for Public Services Jonathan Clifton, said: “England is in danger of introducing an apprenticeship system that would work well in the economy of the 1960s, but is not fit for a 21st-century workforce.

“We need to create an apprenticeship system that works in a jobs market that is increasingly characterised by small firms, service sector jobs and flexible working.”

“The government is handing more responsibility to employers for funding, designing, buying and delivering apprenticeships, while at the same time removing the requirement that they include a nationally recognised qualification,” the report goes on. “In addition to introducing this new apprenticeship system, the government is trying to oversee a rapid expansion of the programme in order to meet its self-imposed target of delivering 3 million apprenticeship starts by the end of the parliament.

The new system will place an increased burden on small and medium-sized employers, the IPPR says. “In terms of administering apprenticeships, while continuing to require many of them to make a financial contribution to the cost. There is therefore a risk that the majority of employers will not engage in the programme.


‘Old training simply rebadged as new’

Another concern centres on the fear that there will be little additional training introduced as a result of
the system. “Some employers (especially those operating a ‘low pay, low skill’ business model) could re-badge existing staff training as apprenticeships, in order to secure government money or ‘recoup’ their apprenticeship levy. This means there will be little additional training and skills development being delivered as a result of the new system, and it could devalue the apprenticeship ‘brand’ more widely.”

Having outlined its concerns over some of the structural issues with the new Levy-led regime, the IPPR sets out 4 key policy recommendations it believes will go some way to improving the system.

  • The government should consider extending the levy to cover smaller employers, and should investigate ways to reduce the administrative burden on employers.
  • The government should restrict apprenticeships to those sectors in which apprenticeships can add real value. In line with the Sainsbury Review (ITEC 2016), we agree that there should be 15 technical routes, restricted to skilled occupations in which there is a substantial requirement for technical knowledge and practical skills. The government should also consider (re)introducing a more formal qualification element to apprenticeships.
  • The government should tighten up the regulation of the new apprenticeship standards, in line with a strengthened Institute of Apprenticeships, and a single common framework of technical standards, as proposed by the Sainsbury Review (ibid).
  • The government should encourage the growth of apprenticeships at level 3 and above, with the ultimate aim of all apprenticeships being delivered at these levels. In order for this to be successful, it must also create a more clearly defined ‘pre-apprenticeship’ route at level 2, to ensure that young people can progress into 
an apprenticeship.