Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers
8 OCTOBER 2008
Q1 Chairman: I welcome our
three witnesses to our deliberations. We are conducting part of
a pre-legislative inquiry into the draft Apprenticeships Bill.
As everyone knows, this is part of a pre-legislative inquiry across
the two Departments. The majority of it, in territory terms, is
a Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills responsibility,
so I suspect that the lead role has been with DIUS, but we are
certainly taking our part seriously, particularly in the areas
of 16-to-18 apprenticeships and their career implications. That
is what this sitting is about. Simon, what was your reaction when
you heard about the Bill? We have had apprenticeships in this
country for a long time. They chunter along pretty well, and have
increased substantially over the past nine or 10 years. Why do
we need the Bill?
Simon Bartley: Thank you very
much. My first impression when I heard about the Bill was a positive
one. I felt that it was more evidence that apprenticeships and
vocational education were at the top of the agenda, or rising
to the top of the agenda. So I welcomed it, and carried on welcoming
it thereafter. You are right: it is rather nice that somebody
has given some credit that apprenticeships have been around for
400 years, and if I put my sector skills council hat on, covering
plumbing, I think that they go back to Roman times, if not before.
So it is rather nice to hear that apprenticeships have a long
life and are worthwhile continuing. The problem that we have had
with apprenticeships in the areas that I have been involved in
has been the reluctance of employers to place all their apprentice
eggs in the one basket of 16-year-old school leavers. We have
been working on persuading the Government to have adult apprentices,
so I saw this as a move in the right direction, towards widening
the franchise of apprenticeships, so that employers in particular
could get more of what they wanted, from different places, rather
than from where they were being told was the only place to get
Q2 Chairman: Andy Powell,
is there anything that you would like to say to the Committee?
Andy Powell: Briefly, I have a
strong belief that apprenticeships and that form of learning and
development for young people are a good thing. The aspiration
that we should, over the next 10 years, build that up to 20% of
young people doing them seems absolutely sensible. Therefore,
a Bill that strengthens that is, I think, not a bad thing. The
challenge of the Bill for me is that the key things lie around
it. So the advice and guidance given to young people are important,
but so are what leads up to an apprenticeship and where people
go on from being an apprentice. In those sort of areas, I have
some suggestions of where the Bill is more difficult to support,
but I am in support of the concept.
Q3 Chairman: What is the view
from your vantage point in the FE sector, Nick?
Nick Edwards: We welcomed the
Bill coming forward. We understood that there was a commitment
from the Government towards apprenticeships, but the Bill begins
to give some actual leverage to delivering those apprenticeships.
It will give some momentum. It also assigns responsibilities,
which I think is very important to deliver the targets that the
Q4 Chairman: How many apprenticeships
are there at the moment, Simon?
Simon Bartley: One hundred and
eighty thousand a year, I think.
Q5 Chairman: That is a substantial
increase, is it not?
Simon Bartley: It is a substantial
increase, over the last three or four years, from 60,000 or 70,000.
The actual figures are at the beginning of the Bill, I think,
in the foreword: 180,000 in 2006-07, up from 65,000 in 1996so
an increase over 10 years. I think that the important thing in
the foreword is the number of completions. There is a real issue
about the non-completion of apprenticeships. In some sectorssuch
as plumbing, or electrical contracting or wiringpartially
qualified individuals entering the labour market, who may be two
years through a three-and-a-half-year apprenticeship, are actually
a risk to themselves and to the customers they are working for.
Also, by their very dropping out of apprenticeships and not completing,
they make employers less likely to want to take on another apprentice.
If you are a small employer and you take on one apprentice a year,
and one in two of them does not finish, eventually you are going
to think, "Why do I put all my effort into this training?"
The important thing is the completion figureup from 40,000
to 112,000, broadly in proportion with what happens elsewhere.
The Apprenticeship Ambassadors Network worked on some of the earlier
figures and the earlier papers and Bills that have gone through
Parliament, and with the target of 400,000 that came out in Leitch
for England500,000, I think, for the whole of the United
Kingdomwhich is, or was until very recently, a realistic
target for apprenticeships and something to be welcomed. The work
in this Bill of having older individuals16, 17, 18, perhaps
19-year-oldsstarting apprenticeships with a guarantee helps
achieve that target, which I think is a good one.
Q6 Chairman: I do not know
whether a lot of people have a memory of what an apprenticeship
looked like. What does the apprenticeship look like today? Bring
the Committee up to date. How long is an apprenticeship, for example?
Simon Bartley: That is a long
question, which could take the whole of our time. Briefly, there
are apprenticeships to Level 2 and to Level 3, so the difference
in timing for each of those is considerable. In different sectors,
of course, they tend to be different, depending on the framework.
I can build on the ones in electrical contracting, which I know.
In the production of an electrician, there is no Level 2 apprenticeship,
because there is no job there for someone in the electrical industry.
The electrical industry wants fully qualified electricians, and
they come with a Level 3 qualification. So there is not a Level
2; people pass through where a Level 2 would have been at 12 months.
Q7 Chairman: How long is the
overall apprenticeship in that sector?
Simon Bartley: About three and
a half years. It is not dependent on timeso the idea of
a time-served apprenticeship, which is the historical type of
apprenticeship, has gone. An apprenticeship is gained by gaining
a technical certificate at Level 3, followed by the NVQ at Level
3. It is the NVQthe time spent at the workplace doing itthat
takes the bulk of the three and a half years. At the end of that,
there is an achievement measurement test, which is a practical
test to ensure that the time spent on site is not just time served
but has achieved the occupational standard required for the craft
of being an electrician. That is pretty standard across most craft
Q8 Chairman: Yes, but you are talking
about craft apprenticeshipsthe model that most of us are
familiar with. Andy Powell, how does that compare with apprenticeships
in other areas like retail or distribution or leisure and tourism?
Andy Powell: The only thing that
I can say in response, though I cannot give the detail, is that
they can be very different. The length of time that apprentices
serve can depend on the individual, as Simon says, but also, on
average, it can vary quite significantly between, for example,
engineering on one end, which takes more like four years, and
some of the others, such as customer service or retail, which
can be quite short.
Q9 Chairman: How short?
Andy Powell: I would have to check
this, but I would have thought around a year in some cases. Most
Level 2 apprentices take about 12 to 18 months, but it is nearer
12 months or even shorter in some cases. Level 3 apprentices take
between a year and a half and two and a half years on average.
Nick Edwards: We would expect
to get retail, business administration and IT apprentices at Level
2 through in 12 months if they have the appropriate work experience
and can evidence the competencies in the workplace. That is what
our funding is based on as well. There is the concept of timely
completions. The LSC has a view of how long an apprenticeship
should take. Level 3 would take two to three years, but we would
be looking to try to get them through in two years if they have
already done Level 2.
Q10 Chairman: Why, when I inquired
what was the average length of an apprenticeship, was I told it
was one year? There must be some pretty short apprenticeships
if the average is one year.
Nick Edwards: It depends where
the starting point is for the learner. For a Level 2, it would
be one year. That is what we are funded for. For Level 3, it depends
on experiencewhat level the person is coming in and what
knowledge they have of the industry. Remember that people in employment
can undertake apprenticeships, as well as people new to the industry.
Some people at Level 3 would already have substantial experience
in the workplace and would then take a Level 3 apprenticeship
that would fast track them through quite quickly, because they
can evidence the competencies in the workplace.
Q11 Chairman: I want to press you
a little bit more on these very short apprenticeships, especially
the shortesthairdressing or child care. Are there apprenticeships
Nick Edwards: There are apprenticeships
in hairdressing, yes.
Q12 Chairman: How many?
Nick Edwards: I am not aware of
how many there are.
Q13 Chairman: Does anybody know?
Can you give us any idea of what the numbers are? Are the bulk
of our craft apprenticeships at the moment taking three or three
and half years, or are the bulk very short?
Simon Bartley: I am drawing on
memory here and I might, when the transcript arrives, suggest
an accurate change, but I would think that three quarters of apprenticeships
are at Level 2 and that no more than a quarter of apprenticeships
are at Level 3in other words, advanced apprenticeships.
A lot depends on the requirements of the occupational standard
that is going to be met by the apprenticeship, and of course,
those occupational standards are slightly dependent on what the
employers in a particular industry want the apprentice to have
learned. There is meant to be some parity between the occupational
standard in hairdressing at Level 3 and the occupational standard
of an electrician or plumber at Level 3. It is very difficult
to compare exactly. You would need to talk to a QCA or an LSC
expert on those. But I would be surprised if an advanced apprenticeship
in plumbingother than through the accreditation of prior
learning that Nick has just mentionedor an advanced apprenticeship
in hairdressing took significantly different lengths of time.
It might be two and half to three and half years or two and half
to five years, but I cannot believe that the average length of
a Level 3 apprenticeship or a Level 2 apprenticeship combined
number would be 12 months, because that would mean that some were
being pushed through in two or three months, and there is not
that number of candidates with accreditation of prior learning
work experience to justify that. The Apprenticeship Ambassadors
Network can probably give you more accurate figures more rapidly
than I can.
Nick Edwards: When people enter
the workplace, it is often through a more informal apprenticeship.
You often get someone, say from hairdressing, who will say that
they have left school and they have been taken on as an apprentice.
They are not a part of the formal apprenticeship scheme. They
are on low pay, doing low-skilled jobs in a hairdressing salon,
gradually picking up skills. Then they will apply to a college
or training provider to do a formal apprenticeship. They have
already learnt a considerable amount of skills in the workplace.
Those people will achieve quicker. You will then get other people
who will leave school and go straight on to an apprenticeshiplike
a hairdressing apprenticeship. They then have to do all the underpinning
knowledge, because they do not have the knowledge of the industry
and so on, and they will take longer. That is one of the beauties
of the apprenticeship schemeit is customised to the individual's
learning needs and to their experience of the workplace.
Andy Powell: Having said that,
if we try to hover up a bit from this and say, "How do we
increase the quantity and quality of apprenticeships?", the
overall brand and quality is very important. That is one thing.
The two other things are, depending on which way you look at it,
demand and supplydemand by employers for young people and
the supply of good young people coming in. The point that you
raise, Chairman, is important. But overall, the increase in the
completion rate is very significant and commendable, and that
quality has made a big difference. If you look at the statisticsI
do not have the details in front of meand at the length
of that apprenticeship and the time spent on some sort of formal
training that goes with it, there are still a few sectors with
areas that should be probed a bit more. But that is not the biggest
issue here anymore; the demand from employers is a bigger issue.
The challenge is that it rightly varies very considerably between
sectors, and you need someone from that sector to understand.
There are a few sectors where there is a need for probing to find
whether the quality is still there, but I would suggest that quality
is not, overall, the biggest issue at the moment.
Q14 Chairman: What is the
Andy Powell: I think that it is
the supply and demand. At this particular point in time, all the
evidence suggests that the biggest issue is how we encourage employers
to take on more young people. There are issues on the supply side
Q15 Chairman: We will be coming
back to that later, when we shall be asking what is the nature
of an apprenticeship based in college and what is the nature of
a more traditional one, based with an employer. But we will hold
that back for other colleagues. Can I just push you on the aspiration
for 20%? If we are going to have 20% of people keen to enter apprenticeships,
which is something that I have always supported, it is right that
the quality has got to be there and that the brand has got to
be right, so that the parents of young apprentices will have the
comfort of knowing that this is a good qualification that leads
them into a good way of work. Do we agree on that?
Simon Bartley: Absolutely.
Q16 Chairman: Is this new
apprenticeship linked to the fact that the Government are at the
same time going to raise the school leaving age to 18? Do you
see this as a very important part of that development?
Nick Edwards: Yes, I do. I have
mentioned before that people can leave school at 16 at the moment
and say that they are in training, but they are not; they are
on low pay and working and picking up skills in the workplace
without any formal qualifications. That has now stopped. They
can go to the workplace at 16, but they will have to be on a formal
training programme, gaining qualifications that recognise the
skills that they have got. That is a really positive advance.
Also, if the apprenticeships become part of the portfolio on offer
for secondary school children at 16 to 18, you will probably start
to make the numbers you want. At the moment, it is not a part
of the portfolio. The IAG (Information, Advice and Guidance) in
schools does not offer children that. There are many reasons for
that. The diplomas have come in, and they are beginning to confuse
the issue for young people and parents as to when you are getting
engaged with the world of work and the skills for work. Most of
the secondary school sector is now under Building Schools for
the Future. There are new buildings, which are fantastic, but
a lot of the schools have premised them on additional student
numbers in terms of their resources. Secondary schools are looking
to hold on to their learners. For a lot of learners, a secure
environment, like a secondary school, is the right place to be,
and they are being offered the diploma route. For a lot of learners,
beginning to engage in the world of work supported by college
and other training provider programmes is the appropriate route,
and they are not necessarily getting that through IAG. It is the
point that Andy alluded to: this is an excellent product. Parents
like this product and recognise what it is, and young people like
it. At both ends, the supply chain is the problem in getting people
into the apprenticeship programme and securing employment opportunities
at the other end. The product is good and the Bill has good initiatives,
but the devil is in the detail of how they will pull this off.
Q17 Chairman: Andy, any comments?
Andy Powell: Again, relating to
the continuing or leaving age, I think that they are mainly different
things. The most important thing for the Government, and across
Parliament, is that a message goes out to everyone that there
are many paths to success for young people. It is not about parity
of esteem between a work-based route, a mixed route or an academic
route; it is about parity of resource and recognition, and that
is the fundamental message that we must get across. As you know,
I strongly support the importance of getting parents and all young
people to understand those different routes even from a young
age. However, extending the leaving age applies primarily, as
I recall, to that 9 and 11%I cannot remember which way
round, but it is those not in education, employment and training,
and those in employment but not in training. That is a different
issue. Most young people want to learn and get on and it is about
providing highly motivational and relevant ways of people learning.
There is obviously a link, but I do not see that it is a strong
connection, if I understood the question correctly.
Q18 Chairman: So do you not
see it as a coherent set of policies coming from the Government
Department? On the one hand, there is the raising of the leaving
age for education and learning to 18 and the new diplomas, and
this new Apprenticeships Bill. Is this a joined up piece of policy
or is it not?
Andy Powell: Potentially. Where
the issue still arises is in how a diploma relates to an apprenticeship,
for example. I do not think we quite know yet.
Q19 Chairman: Do none of you
know? Diplomas have started, and we have apprenticeships. Do any
of you know how they join up?
Andy Powell: You can certainly
transferperhaps I will look to my colleagues on this. You
can do a Level 2 diploma and transfer to an apprenticeship. Indeed,
you will need to make that available in the Bill, going from a
Level 2whether that is a GCSE or a diplomato do
a Level 2 apprenticeship. That is legitimate, and at the moment
it is blocked in the Bill. I have a precise point to make, and
then I will ask some of my colleagues who might know the detail
better. The area that I always think is missing and that we are
not yet sure aboutthis tries to put it in the language
of any parent or employer; I, for example, have a 16-year-old
boyis when and why should I encourage my lad to do GCSEs
and go on to A-levels? When should I suggest a diploma route?
In theory, that mixture of theory and practice is excellent and
would suit him very well. When should I put him in an apprenticeship?
Similarly, for an employer, under what conditions and when and
why might it be beneficial to employ someone on an apprenticeship
who carries on learning that way, and when should they take someone
who has done the diploma or A-levels, or a graduate? In the education
and training world, we tend to get stuck on what exactly an apprentice
and a completion rate are. This is simply a route of learning
where people start beforehand and go on afterwards. We must understand
that better in general layman's terms.
Nick Edwards: I think that you
are asking for a challenging amount of coherence of diplomas and
apprenticeships. In terms of diplomas, you would ask, which Government
target are they aimed at hitting? I suggest that they are hitting
the HE target and encouraging more people to go to HE and vocational
HE programmes, rather than hitting an apprenticeship target. The
concept of transferability from diplomas is challenging. Somebody
who has done a Level 2 construction diploma could not transfer
to a Level 3 construction apprenticeshipthey would need
to go back and do a Level 2 construction apprenticeship. The Level
2 construction apprenticeship is a vocational training programme
training people with skills for the workplace, which the diploma
does not do. It is not a vocational programme; it is applied learning.
That is a real challenge. You have products running alongside
each other. If professionals in the sector cannot resolve that,
then the customersthe parents and the young peoplewill
not necessarily be able to resolve it themselves, either.