• Over-25s ‘benefit most from apprenticeships’

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  • 21 Mar 2016
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Younger apprentices hampered by short-term, low-quality schemes, says social mobility tsar

The current drive to meet David Cameron’s pledge of creating three million apprenticeships by 2020 is failing to deliver for the very people it was intended to benefit, according to Alan Milburn, chair of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission.

The social mobility tsar warned that the number of people under the age of 24 taking on apprenticeships had barely changed since 2010. Almost all of the recent increase in apprenticeship starts relates to those above this age: currently there are just 4,200 under-24s undertaking higher apprenticeships in the UK.

The commission also noted that, unlike academic courses, apprenticeships do not represent a ‘step up’ in educational terms, with most A-level-age (16-18) apprentices undertaking GCSE-level apprenticeships, and 97 per cent of university-age (18-21) apprentices doing apprenticeships at A-level equivalent or lower.

According to the commission’s findings, most youth apprenticeships are in sectors typically characterised by low pay and poor progression, including health and social care, business and administration, and hospitality and catering, helping to reinforce the stereotype that young people are ‘better off’ going to university.

Milburn said: “The government is committed to giving all young people a chance to make something of their lives, but the current drive to increase the number of apprenticeships isn’t delivering for people under the age of 24.

“The number of young apprentices has flatlined since 2010, and many of these apprenticeships don’t offer young people a foundation they can build on.”

But Mark Beatson, chief economist at the CIPD, said the “flatlining” number of young apprentices was still in line with the share of 19-24 year olds in the UK population.

The commission suggested that current apprenticeship figures might be far from accurate as they focus on apprenticeship starts only, which risks apprentices being counted twice or even three times. Milburn called for greater data transparency and a focus on completion rates.

Beatson said the concern should be with the level, mix and quality of apprenticeships being offered across the country and for all ages, rather than focusing on numbers alone.

“A very small proportion of apprenticeships offer a degree or university-equivalent qualification, and it’s not the case that there aren’t enough quality apprentices to take on higher-level schemes,” he said.

“A lot of employers find apprenticeships time, labour and cost-intensive. If the educational benefits of an apprenticeship scheme are not equivalent to higher education or university, and many apprentices leave organisations after completing their scheme, the incentives and routes to progression are stunted for both employer and apprentice.”

Beatson suggested that the government could use the apprenticeship levy’s digital accounts initiative to discourage employers from offering short-term, low-level apprenticeships, increasing the amount of funding available to those employers willing to offer quality training.

He added: “The 2017 levy risks potential ‘gaming’ where employers use funding to accredit existing low-level training as apprenticeship programmes,” which may also explain the increase in ‘older’ apprentices.

Beatson said the government’s planned Apprenticeship Delivery Board could have a significant impact on the quality and transparency of apprenticeship training.

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  • I completely agree with the writer.

    I worked for a well-known National Training Provider, working with apprentices, focusing between the age of 17-24. We did offer quality training, but the majority of the training was Level 2 courses, what I call its a "basic qualification" to have nowadays.

    Also know companies, who hardly , or not at all, offer any training for their apprentices and work just as hard as other people for their basic salary.

    Companies should offer Level 3 qualifications, at least,in return for their cheap labour.