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

Memorandum 7

Submission from the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC)


  The British Chambers of Commerce is the national body for a powerful and influential Network of Accredited Chambers of Commerce across the UK; a Network that directly serves not only its member businesses but the wider business community.

  Representing over 100,000 businesses and 5 million employees, the British Chambers of Commerce is The Ultimate Business Network. Every Chamber sits at the very heart of its local business community working with businesses to grow and develop individuals, businesses, communities—and ultimately, the nation's economy—by sharing opportunities, knowledge and know-how.

  No other business organisation makes such a difference to business as the British Chambers of Commerce.


    —  The British Chambers of Commerce is supportive of any planned increase in the number of apprenticeships undertaken. We believe that providing a statutory basis for apprenticeships is a positive step forward, and will help to make then a mainstream option in 14-19 education.

    —  Apprenticeships must be employer led and focused on business needs, while also containing an element of accredited training that will allow progression for the apprentice. Elements of apprenticeships must tie in with other qualifications to make the system cohesive and understandable.

    —  Clear and impartial information, advice and guidance is also needed in schools and college to help young people make appropriate decisions about their futures.

    —  The National Apprenticeship Service must be regionally rooted, within existing organisations and be as light-touch as possible, otherwise it will just serve as a disincentive for employers. Equally quality assurance must also be un-bureaucratic.

    —  Apprenticeships should be firmly rooted within the qualifications frameworks, and have clear routes of progression into higher qualifications as well as within employment.


  The British Chambers of Commerce supports the proposal that apprenticeships should be a mainstream educational option for young people. Likewise, we support the premise that a greater number of apprenticeships places should be created. While the Diplomas will introduce a much needed element of work skills into the classroom, many young people will benefit from the offer of apprenticeships as a wholly vocational pathway based with an employer rather than in a programme.


  The BCC recognises that providing a statutory framework for apprenticeships will mean that they are more likely to become a mainstream option in the way that A-Levels, GCSEs and Diplomas are today. However, there is also concern over a number of issues regarding the nature of a statutory framework.

  The statutory basis for apprenticeships must not result in increased bureaucracy. Too much paperwork has been cited as a reason why many employers have been apprehensive about taking on apprentices. If this issue is not addressed, it will derail the government's plans, as businesses will be unwilling to engage with the system. The Secretary of State for Universities, Innovation and Skills has promised that he would look into the reduction of the bureaucracy associated apprenticeships. We look forward to seeing action is this area.

  Employers must have of freedom in deciding what apprentices they need and the types of skills that their apprentices should develop beyond the functional and generic learning of apprenticeship programmes. Taking on apprentices will, and should ultimately always be a business decision dictated by the individual needs of that business.

  The BCC supports of the introduction of certification for apprenticeships. Certification will help to give apprenticeships a similar status to other mainstream qualifications, and also facilitate progression routes of apprentices once their study is completed.


  The broad outline for apprenticeship blueprints outlined in the draft Bill is the correct one, but should be as light-touch and bureaucracy free as possible otherwise business will not want to take on apprentices.

  Businesses believe that all apprenticeships should be essentially employer led, with programme based training elements that occupy no more than one to two days per week of the apprentices time depending on the apprenticeship and stage of study. The BCC does not believe that programme led vocational courses can be considered to be apprenticeships. Such courses often feature training grouped together in a single block and no direct relationship with an employer sourced from the outset. Such programmes only serve to weaken the apprenticeship brand and give young people a less practical learning experience compared to employer led apprenticeships. Being attached to an employer is essential for the apprentice's interpersonal skills, personal management skills and wider functional skills to develop, as well as to help them put theory into practice.


  We believe that apprenticeships should be placed within the wider qualifications structure from the outset. This is important because it will give them a better status when placed alongside other qualifications than they currently have. This will also aid in progression to further and higher education, as well as within employment. The planned introduction of a National Qualifications Framework will be of great benefit to employers and will help to strengthen apprenticeships. The core elements of apprenticeships, Diplomas and the functional skills that are to be part of the general route (GCSEs and A-Levels) should be related and interchangeable, as this will add coherence and cohesion to the system.

  The relationship between apprenticeships and Diplomas is clearly an important one. Diplomas are designed as a bridge between academic and vocational learning, and we conceive that many students who undertake the Diploma will progress onto apprenticeships. Relevant parts of the Diploma should be co-ordinated with the programme elements of apprenticeships to ensure that the relationship between the two qualifications is as complementary as possible.

  Mutual weight to credit within elements of each qualification should be ensured also, as this would mean that students would find it easier to transfer between the two streams if they found one unsuitable. This would help counter the problem of young people between 18 and 19 years of age who are not in education, employment or training (NEET). Many people in this age group who find themselves NEET do so because they have dropped out a course they have found unsuitable, but have been unable to start another course or programme immediately. If the qualifications marry up effectively, it would reduce this group by aiding transferability.

  There must also be clear progression routes for certain apprenticeships up through the qualifications ladder. For example, certain engineering apprentices will wish to gain Level 4 qualifications (Bachelor degrees). This will help to increase the image of apprenticeships and will encourage more young people to undertake them.

  In apprenticeship frameworks, it is likely that NVQs will make up the part of the programme element. The quality of NVQs must also be analysed and be addressed where it is found wanting. NVQs must also be placed into smaller units so that employers can create programme elements that are most suited to their businesses needs.


  For apprenticeships to become a mainstream option, young people need to be given effective and impartial information, advice and guidance. Schools and colleges must be able to promote apprenticeships to young people and their parents as a realistic and valuable option for certain learners. Without this support form the educational establishment, the government will be unable to increase the number of young people undertaking apprenticeships.

  The government should ensure that it uses its existing organisations, such as Connexions to distribute information on apprenticeships. Experience of organisations such as Connexions greatly varies across the country and efforts should be made to ensure that quality is more uniform.

  Any money distributed to schools should be ring-fenced or administered externally through existing agencies. We also do not believe that information, advice and guidance is effective when administered internally in schools and colleges as teachers have a tendency to encourage young people to stay on academic routes rather than equally valuable vocational ones. British society currently has a natural prejudice against vocational routes, which encourages teachers to only push the less academically inclined down vocational routes when in reality some apprenticeships, such as those in high-tech engineering firms are equally as challenging as applied academic routes, and require highly able young people.

  Evidence suggests that this problem is exacerbated in with school sixth forms. As schools and colleges get money per student, year 12+ students are a very valuable commodity and schools do not want to run the risk of loosing good students to courses they do not run. Vocational courses are only promoted to those who are not wanted back in 6th form hence the social image of these courses is very low. This must be addressed.

  More information should be provided to schools at an earlier stage. Schools should be encouraged to identify champions for apprenticeships among the staff and pupils, and bring back pupils who have been successful as apprentices to speak to youngsters and show that apprenticeships are a viable alternative.


  The BCC believed that the reforms outlined by Raising Expectations were an unnecessary part of a long history of organisational change in Further Education by the Labour government. Despite its faults, a slimmed down and less bureaucratic LSC would have been the natural home for national co-ordination of apprenticeships.

  While we appreciate that knowledge about apprenticeships opportunities would be increased with a national service, businesses are also worried about yet another bureaucratic agency, which instead of making it easier for businesses to find an apprentice actually complicates matters. Steps must be taken to ensure that the service is as light touch as possible, and that it is integrated into an existing agency to avoid costly creation and set up costs.

  The design of the NAS must recognise the needs of regional businesses, and must be firmly rooted locally.

  The creation of a National Apprenticeship Service must also take into account the existing strong relationships between businesses and training providers. There is serious potential for existing productive relationships to be irreparably damaged.


  Ensuring that the quality of apprenticeships is maintained is important to businesses. If quality is not maintained, the government's attempts to increase the number of young people undertaking apprenticeships will be unsuccessful in the medium to long term, as firms will not get the skills they want from apprenticeships, and young people will not want to undertake courses which have little prospect of progression.

  It is important that the external programme element of apprenticeships is examined, as this will give the apprentice clearer progression routes into promotion, further employment, or higher qualifications. The basis of this should be the NVQ system.

  SMEs would find an over burdensome inspection regime a disincentive to take on apprentices, although would want the quality of training providers that they use to be of assured high quality. Ensuring the quality of apprenticeships in what is essentially a target driven culture is a challenge. There needs to be an independent assessment on the quality of apprenticeships preferably by industry experts. Any quality assurance and inspection of the work-based elements of apprenticeships needs to come from an impartial source which is in touch with the needs of the industry.

  Part of ensuring quality is through the provision of support for companies who take on apprenticeships. While large companies have the resource to manage a complex apprenticeship programme, smaller firms below 50, usually without HR or training specialists will require further help to run high quality apprenticeships. Any help given should focus on support rather than inspection and appraisal.


  It is clear that for the government to meet its target to increase the number of young people undertaking apprenticeships, more employers must be encouraged to take apprentices on. Government needs to increase awareness of the advantages of apprenticeships among SMEs, while business has to be convinced that the apprenticeship programme is robust and flexible enough to meet its requirements. Business will be encouraged if they believe that apprenticeship schemes are employer led and industry focussed, and meet the needs of businesses, industry and the young people involved.

  Businesses, especially SMEs, will require financial incentives and support for taking on apprenticeships. When creating an apprenticeship programme, employers are making an investment in a young person from whom they will not see a return on until year two or three of a programme. In light of this, additional financial support in the first year of training could encourage businesses to take on more apprentices. This is especially the case for SMEs, for whom taking on apprenticeships is a large resource investment in terms of both time and money.

September 2008

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