The duty to secure apprenticeship
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:
- In one of two available sectors
chosen by the person seeking an apprenticeship;
- At the appropriate level (in terms of qualification);
- Within the person's reasonable travel area.
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.
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.
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".
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".
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".
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%).
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.
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.
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 apprenticeshipsplumbing and electrical
work for instancewere 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".
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.
Mr Edwards told us that employers did not, at the moment, see
it as their social responsibility to provide training for young
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".
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.
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.
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
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;
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.
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
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,
- Streamlining the process for
establishing new Apprenticeship frameworks;
- Recognising training provided by employers which
conforms to the Apprenticeships blueprint but which does not receive
- Financial incentives for large and small businesses,
as well as third sector organisations; and
- A vacancy matching service, to connect supply
with demand, for the benefit of both potential apprentices and
GROUP APPRENTICESHIP SCHEMES
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;
and we note that group apprenticeship schemes are fairly widespread
in the engineering sector.
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.
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
54 HC 1062, Session 2007-08. Back
Q 22 Back
Executive Summary, responses to the public consultation on the
Draft Apprenticeships Bill, www.dcsf.gov.uk/consultations Back
Q 97 Back
Q 24 Back
See World-class Apprenticeships, DIUS, page 34. Back
also Children and Young People Now, 30 October 2008. Back
Q 31 Back
Q 23 Back
Mr Bartley, Q 42 Back
Q 24 Back
Response by Energy and Utility Skills to the Government's consultation
on the Draft Bill. Back
Q 129 Back
Q 106 Back
World-class Apprenticeships, DIUS, page 41 Back
Q 103 Back
Q 98 Back
Q 23 Back
KITS-Kirklees Industrial Training Service-is just one example. Back
Mr Edwards, Q 30 Back