Select Committee on Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Written Evidence

Memorandum 1

Submission from the Engineering Council UK (ECUK)


  1.  Strengthening the apprenticeship system would almost certainly lead to more opportunities for apprenticeships to be recognised as leading to professional status, and ECUK would welcome this.

  2.  Our comments chiefly focus on areas where greater clarity in the draft Bill could help achieve the Government's objectives in apprenticeships:

    —  the employed status of the apprentice;

    —  attainment, employment, competence and a need to define "work";

    —  progression opportunities—level 4 and beyond;

    —  public access to data;

    —  equality and inclusion;

    —  Young Apprenticeships;

    —  impact on structures—issues of expert advise and of multiple "sectors"; and

    —  maintaining quality above quantity.


  3.  The Engineering Council UK (ECUK) regulates the engineering profession in the UK by licensing 36 professional engineering institutions which are then able to place suitably qualified members on ECUK's Register of Engineers. The Register has three sections: Chartered Engineer, Incorporated Engineer and Engineering Technician. The UK's Register of around 250,000 professional engineers and technicians is the largest such register in the developed world.

  4.  ECUK has developed standards for registration which reflect employer needs. We work closely with employer organisations, and with the education sector, to ensure that the competences needed to practice engineering are understood, and that qualifications to underpin these are identified, and where possible accredited or approved.

  5.  Completion of an advanced apprenticeship can lead an individual directly to membership of a professional engineering institution and registration with ECUK as a professional Engineering Technician (EngTech). ECUK has also recently received approval to establish a standard and register for professional ICT Technicians (ICTTech).

  6.  ECUK works with national regulatory bodies in many parts of the world, and has a good understanding of the standards applied in other developed and developing countries.


  7.  Engineering Council UK (ECUK) generally welcomes this draft Bill. Apprenticeships have a major role to play in the continuous enhancement of the UK's skills base. Equally importantly, they can be an important vehicle for individual development and fulfillment, since they provide a means of learning through active engagement in work, supported as appropriate by formal learning. We therefore welcome the move to give them a secure legal status.

  8.  The engineering profession recognises the value of good quality level 3 apprenticeships as part of its requirements for professional registration. Under the UK Standard for Professional Engineering Competence (UK-SPEC), completion of an appropriate apprenticeship can lead an individual directly to membership of a professional engineering institution and registration with ECUK as a professional Engineering Technician (EngTech). Professional status gives added value to completing an apprenticeship, since it requires the individual to commit to lifelong learning and maintenance and development of professional competence, as well as to professional codes of conduct and ethics. Strengthening the apprenticeship system to achieve the Government's objectives in world-class apprenticeships would almost certainly lead to more opportunities for apprenticeships to be recognised as leading to professional status, and ECUK would welcome this. The comments on the draft Bill which follow concentrate on areas where greater clarity could help achieve these objectives. They mainly relate to the Committee's question "Is there anything missing from the draft Bill?" although some comments on other matters are also included.


  9.  The LSC 2007 statement, echoed in World-class Apprenticeships, has our full support:

    The preferred Apprenticeship route is now, and will continue to be, direct employment from the beginning of the Apprenticeship until its completion.[1]

    We will protect the Apprenticeship brand, reforming so-called Programme-led Apprenticeships to strictly specify the acceptable minimum level of tie-in with employers.[2]

  10.  The need to reform programme-led apprenticeships has been further underlined by the recent Ofsted report[3] on them, which included disturbing accounts of young people engaged in long hours of unpaid "work-experience". It is therefore of concern that while the terms "work" and "working" are used a number of times in the draft Bill (eg in sub-clauses 1(2)(c), 3(2), and 3(3) ) these are not clarified. Although it would appear from the proposed new 3G(1)(a) of the Learning and Skills Act that employment is a requirement of an aged 16-18 apprenticeship, the requirement for employed status of apprentices (from beginning to end) is not sufficiently clear and should be made so.


  11.  The LSC report on programme-led apprenticeships emphasised that:

    The characteristic principle of "apprenticeship" since its creation has been the acquisition of skills and competence to operate in a designated employment trade by learning from those already knowledgeable and competent and by practising and refining these skills in employment.[4]

  12.  Competence is the key to registration as a professional Engineering Technician. It is a combination of knowledge, understanding, skills and attitudes and while some aspects of it may be acquired through formal learning it cannot be achieved without learning through work. It is however not mentioned in the Bill, and nor is the validation of learning through work, although the latter is implied in the explanatory notes (note 13). Instead the references to standards of attainment are related to the acquisition of qualifications. It is understandable that legislation should relate to tangible entities such as qualifications, rather than to concepts such as competence, but there is a danger that this could lead in the worst case to an emphasis simply on theoretical learning. We hope that the Government will be willing to give further consideration to how this important issue might be covered in the Bill. In particular it should be possible to recognise professional development pathways developed by professional bodies, even if these do not lead to a formal qualification such as an NVQ.[5]


  13.  The motor industry, engineering manufacture and electrotechnical sectors have large proportions of level 3 apprentices (71%-81%),[6] a wide range of Sector Skills Qualification Strategies within engineering sectors are indicating shortages at level 4, and progression opportunities need ensuring. However, whilst the explanatory notes to the Bill (eg note 22) indicate that the Higher Level Apprenticeship might be included under eg 12(1)(c), level 4 apprenticeship requirements are not mentioned or specified within the draft Bill. This should be rectified.


  14.  Some other matters are not explicitly covered in the draft Bill and could usefully be:

    (a) There is no requirement for statistics on apprenticeship starts and completions, by level and sector, to be made publicly available. This should be rectified;

    (b) Given that World-class Apprenticeships placed emphasis on addressing inequality in apprenticeships, and this was more recently echoed in the House of Lords Economic affairs reports,[7] by the TUC[8] and by OECD,[9] omission in the draft Bill of reference to such requirements seems a particular missed opportunity;

    (c) The draft Bill does not include any reference to Young Apprenticeships—these have been very successful in engineering-related sectors and there is a concern that subsuming them under Diplomas will result in loss of brand prestige and thereby take-up.


  15.  It is desirable that the NAS should take lead responsibility for all apprenticeships, pre- and post-19. Clarity is needed on who authorized persons and certifying authorities (under eg clause 4) might be. Furthermore, the draft Bill does not include explanation of how the Secretary of State or the "authorised persons" will draw on relevant expertise in order to make decisions about the quality, level and relevance of submissions, or how quality of "delivery" and learning experience will be assured within and between apprenticeship frameworks.

  16.  There are a number of references in the Bill to "sectors" (eg clause 7) and an implication that a framework will only be applicable within a particular sector. While the current relicensing exercise for Sector Skills Councils may help to clarify the definition of individual sectors, it has acknowledged that there may be overlap between them. This is particularly true in fields such as engineering, which spreads over a number of different sectors, and increasingly so as technologies and multidisciplinarity escalate. This needs to be recognised.

  17.  Articulation with Scotland and Northern Ireland will be an important issue for major employers and for organisations such as ourselves and other professional bodies which work at a UK and international level.


  18.  It is by no means certain that it will be possible[10] for the NAS to find a quality employed place for every 16-18 year old so qualified. In these circumstances the emphasis on quantity might be counter-productive and come at the expense of quality, especially for this age range.

September 2008

1   A Strategy for Programme-led Apprenticeships in England 2007-10-LSC 2007 p 3. Back

2   World-class Apprenticeships: Unlocking Talent, Building Skills for All p 6. Back

3   The impact of programme-led apprenticeships (Ofsted 2008). Back

4   A Strategy for Programme-led Apprenticeships in England 2007-10-LSC 2007 p 3. Back

5   And bearing in mind opportunities that may arise from recent change regarding NVQ (Ofqual/08/3160). Back

6   Apprenticeship Pay 2007: survey of earnings by sector (DIUS, 2008). Back

7   Apprenticeship: a key route to skill (House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee 2007) and follow-up report (June 2008). Back

8   Still more (better paid) jobs for the boys (TUC, 2008). Back

9   Jobs for Youth: UK Summary in English. OECD 2008-eg p 6. Back

10   Cf Apprenticeship: Recent Developments. House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee 2008. Back

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