Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families Fourth Report

3  The availability of apprenticeship places

40.  We conclude this short Report with a commentary on the availability of apprenticeship places, on which the success of the Government's plans depends.

The duty to secure apprenticeship places

41.  Clause 21 of the Draft Bill places a duty upon the Learning and Skills Council to secure the availability of apprenticeship places "in sufficient number and variety" for there to be "suitable" apprenticeship places for anyone who is above compulsory school age but under 19 and who holds the necessary entry level requirements. The Draft Bill defines a "suitable" apprenticeship place as one which is:

42.  The practicality of this duty has been questioned and analysed in detail by the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee in its Report on the Draft Bill.[54] We did not take evidence from the Learning and Skills Council for the purposes of this inquiry; but we nonetheless detect considerable apprehension that the imposition of any such duty on the Learning and Skills Council or on any successor body is realistic, particularly at a time of economic uncertainty. Mr Powell described the question of supply of apprenticeship places as "arguably the biggest issue" raised by the Bill.[55] We note that "serious concerns" were expressed in responses submitted to the Government's consultation on the Draft Bill over the ability of the Council or any Government body "to supply apprenticeships to all qualified applicants against the realities of market forces".[56]

43.  The Minister of State himself accepted that the Learning and Skills Council was "not that comfortable, in many ways, with the duty that is being placed on it".[57] Mr Edwards told us that "apprenticeships are the only qualifications that are impacted by the national and local economy" and that "trying to grow apprenticeships in the current economic circumstances will be really challenging". He warned that, as soon as there was a downturn in the economy, apprenticeships would "dry up again, particularly in the industrial sectors".[58]

44.  The proportion of employees aged between 16 and 24 participating in an apprenticeship in the public sector compares unfavourably with the private sector average: 3% compared to 4.9%. Within the public sector, a comparatively high rate within the armed forces (5.4%) compensates for rather lower figures for local government-sponsored education (1.5%), higher education (1.3%), central government (2.2%) and the NHS (2.6%).[59] The availability of apprenticeship places in certain areas of the country is already low: London provides five per cent of apprenticeships in England despite being home to 14 per cent of the population.[60] We note that funding allocated for apprenticeship programmes in London by the Learning and Skills Council last year was "vastly underspent", not because young people did not want them but because there were not the employer places.[61]

45.  Many reasons were given in evidence for the mismatch between supply and demand for apprenticeship places. Changing work patterns were high on the list: Mr Bartley told us that one reason why employers in certain professions traditionally associated with apprenticeships—plumbing and electrical work for instance—were reluctant to take on apprentices was lack of continuity of work. He said that

"By making a commitment to take on a 16 or 17-year-old under an apprenticeship agreement of the type that is referred to in the Bill, you are saying that you will continue their skills training for three and a half years until they become a craftsman or woman. Most small businesses in the plumbing and electrical industries pay their labour force on a weekly basis. The main responsibility for the owner is getting in enough money for the work that he did last week to pay the people who are doing the work this week and finding the work for them to do the week after. While there is that mentality, it is difficult to ask someone to take on a three-and-a-half-year commitment to a young person".[62]

He also suggested that a decline in the number of mid-sized family businesses passed from one generation to the next had led to a reduction in the number of business owners making long-term investments in training family members who would in time inherit the business.[63] Mr Edwards told us that employers did not, at the moment, see it as their social responsibility to provide training for young people.[64]

46.  We also note the statement by Energy and Utility Skills, the sector skills council for the utilities sector, that "driving and insurance restrictions deter employers from recruiting apprentices in the 16-18 age group".[65] We raised employers' concerns about health and safety requirements applicable to young people in the workplace with Ministers, who acknowledged the issue and agreed to consider whether the Draft Bill might be amended to offer some form of reassurance to employers.[66] We urge the Government to assess the scope for amending the Draft Bill to provide comfort to employers presently reluctant to take on young people as Young Apprentices or as Apprentices because of health and safety considerations.

47.  We have grave doubts about whether a statutory duty on the Learning and Skills Council (and in due course the National Apprenticeship Service) to secure sufficient apprenticeship placements can be met, or met without compromising on quality. The definition in the Draft Bill of what constitutes an apprenticeship framework and the requirement to specify the standards to be met by apprenticeships will serve as controls but not necessarily as a guarantee of quality; and it is difficult to see how employers can be compelled to offer apprenticeships against their will. We note, with approval, that the Government has judged any requirement upon employers to provide apprenticeship places to be wrong and counterproductive.[67]

48.  We strongly welcome the Government's intention, articulated in the World-class Apprenticeships strategy review paper and reiterated by Ministers in evidence, to take steps to ensure that the public sector offers more apprenticeship placements; and we recommend that this should be monitored and reported on.[68] The Minister of State for Schools and Learners made what he described as "a slightly ambitious suggestion", that each school might take on an apprentice teaching assistant;[69] and Ministerial champions from different Government departments met in October to discuss ways of working with others to achieve significant growth in public sector apprenticeships.[70] We believe that there is significant potential for public sector organisations to use existing posts to provide apprenticeship placements, provided that they meet the necessary framework standards.

Stimulating the supply of apprenticeship places

49.  The Government's strategy document World-class Apprenticeships: Unlocking Talent, Building Skills for All, recognised the importance of boosting the supply of apprenticeship placements and set out a series of measures to achieve that aim, such as:


50.  Evidence to the Committee identified one particular way in which the supply of apprenticeship placements might be boosted: group apprenticeship schemes, in which an organisation would employ apprentices and would have links to smaller firms which, singly, would find it difficult to offer the breadth of experience or continuity of work required for a apprenticeship. Mr Powell suggested that a clause might be added to the Draft Bill to require the Secretary of State to take steps to encourage the formation of group apprenticeship schemes, whether by providing seedcorn funding or by developing models for brokering and funding such schemes. He drew our attention to examples of such schemes in London and, on a greater scale, in Australia;[71] and we note that group apprenticeship schemes are fairly widespread in the engineering sector.[72]

51.  We also note powerful arguments that group apprenticeship schemes, by transferring much of the burden of managing an apprenticeship to a broker, can relieve small employers of some of the more weighty responsibilities and bureaucracy which might otherwise deter them from offering apprenticeships.[73] We strongly support the concept of group apprenticeship schemes, and we believe that they could become one of the principal means of encouraging small employers to offer apprenticeships. We recommend that the Government should assess the potential of group apprenticeship schemes and should develop models for funding and operating them. If they prove to be viable on a larger scale, the Government, through the proposed National Apprenticeship Service, should promote them vigorously.

54   HC 1062, Session 2007-08. Back

55   Q 22 Back

56   Executive Summary, responses to the public consultation on the Draft Apprenticeships Bill, Back

57   Q 97 Back

58   Q 24 Back

59   See World-class Apprenticeships, DIUS, page 34. Back

60   See; also Children and Young People Now, 30 October 2008. Back

61   Q 31 Back

62   Q 23 Back

63   Mr Bartley, Q 42 Back

64   Q 24 Back

65   Response by Energy and Utility Skills to the Government's consultation on the Draft Bill. Back

66   Q 129 Back

67   Q 106 Back

68   World-class Apprenticeships, DIUS, page 41 Back

69   Q 103 Back

70   Q 98 Back

71   Q 23 Back

72   KITS-Kirklees Industrial Training Service-is just one example. Back

73   Mr Edwards, Q 30 Back

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