Clash of the manifestos: the quality of apprenticeships

3 May 2015

This article should be read alongside: Clash of the manifestos: the number of apprenticeships.

"We will re-focus existing spending away from low-level apprenticeships for older people, and towards a system where apprenticeships are focused on new job entrants, lasting at least two years, and providing level three qualifications or above"—Labour manifesto

"We will continue to replace lower-level classroom-based Further Education courses with high-quality apprenticeships that combine training with experience of work and a wage"—Conservative manifesto

The number of university-level higher apprenticeships is increasing, as the Conservative manifesto suggests, but it's still small relative to the number of lower-level apprenticeships.

£25 million fund was introduced in 2011 to increase the number of advanced and higher apprenticeships—the equivalent of 2 A Level passes and a university-level qualification (such as a higher education certificate, diploma or a bachelor degree) respectively.

Since then, the government has announced a further £40 million to deliver an additional 20,000 higher apprenticeship starts in the 2013/14 and 2014/15 academic years. So it won't be until the end of the current academic year that we see the full effect of that in the figures.

Labour talks about moving towards a system focused on new job entrants. The current system allows both new and existing employees to take on apprenticeships.

In 2011, some of the money that had been spent on the abolished Train to Gain scheme that provided vocational training to adult employees was transferred to fund adult apprenticeships instead. Critics suggested that adults gaining skills under that training scheme were simply being "classified as new apprenticeships" as a result.

So the increase in apprenticeships among the 25 and over age group isn't necessarily an increase in the number of people in this age group taking on training, as some of this training might have happened anyway.

Some companies have been shifting their employees onto apprenticeships in order to certify training for their existing staff—or so it was suggested by the Institute for Public Policy Research, a think tank, in a 2011 report. In that year 70% of apprentices worked for their employer before starting their apprenticeship, compared with about 50% in 2007.

The government's Richard Review in 2012 concluded that apprenticeships "should be targeted only at those who are new to a job or role that requires sustained and substantial training."

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