Select Committee on Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 40-48)


6 OCTOBER 2008

  Q40  Mr Cawsey: The draft Bill is going to set up the National Apprenticeship Service. What are the key issues that that service should concentrate on? For instance, should they be the guardian of apprenticeship quality?

  Mr Frost: I think the primary role is to provide leadership and a clear statement of the importance of apprenticeship, to take ownership and, as you say, put that stamp on it.

  Mr Wainer: In terms of whether it will be a success, it really has to focus on helping employers reduce the time they spend on bureaucracy, encouraging more young people of all abilities to take an apprenticeship. Perhaps that is where the clause in the Bill on careers advice really does fall down. Rather than it improving careers advice in terms of offering guidance to young people about apprenticeships, it will just reinforce careers advisers' and teachers' prejudices that already exist. What we have to do is make sure all young people receive high quality advice and guidance on whether an apprenticeship is good for them, not using the judgment of the teacher if that is going to be "in the best interests", as I think the Bill puts it, of the young person. It has to be more widespread than that.

  Ms Seaman: It is about having a national benchmark and a national standard so that the apprenticeship stands for something of high quality and it has an equivalence with all the other options that a young person or an older person might take and is equally respected. I see a lot of the NAS role in terms of building that credibility, that brand and reputation around apprenticeships so that they are valued by employers and individuals alike and people get proper advice about the options that are open to them.

  Mr Jaffa: If it is going to have any role to benefit our sector, it has to be what is in it for the small businesses because they do want to take on apprenticeships. In a recent survey, we found that only 5% of the people taking on apprenticeships were aware of wage contribution on offer to small businesses, which is a very, very low figure. It is that awareness that is key. Whether it needs legislation I do not know but, as long as awareness is raised, we will be happy.

  Q41  Mr Cawsey: You spoke earlier about bureaucracy, particularly for small businesses, in terms of this but presumably you all agree that it is important that some data is collected so that it can be analysed and made publicly available to provide the sort of robust evidence that this is a good scheme. To what extent should this National Apprenticeship Service be collecting data?

  Mr Jaffa: We have always struggled with getting apprentices to complete the course. The data on completion levels, particularly in the micro sector for those under 10 employees, will be very beneficial for us.

  Mr Frost: I clearly understand the need for data but I think this is one of the issues about bureaucracy. As long as we are clear who is collecting the data and why and firms are not being bombarded by a whole host of different agencies at national, regional and local level, then that is understood.

  Ms Seaman: I think the data is critical, not only in terms of understanding what is going on but building credibility. We need to know that completion rates are improving and I think that comes back to fitness for purpose of frameworks and getting the delivery right. If we get all that right, the completion rates will increase.

  Q42  Mr Cawsey: The completion rate does not necessarily equate to improving quality, does it?

  Ms Seaman: I believe it does because you have to have a quality framework for someone to complete if you have all the agreements in place.

  Mr Wainer: I agree with David. I think data collection is important as long as it does not place undue burdens on the businesses involved but at the moment I think the quality of data we have around apprenticeships is pretty poor. From a policy perspective, it is very difficult.

  Q43  Mr Cawsey: It is planned that there will be a national matching service which there has been some comment about. To what extent is business enthusiastic about the national service or would you prefer more localised arrangements?

  Mr Jaffa: The idea of a matching service would be what a Group Training Association was there for, so if it is going to make any point make it one and not two different things for a small business to understand.

  Mr Frost: Particularly small and medium sized businesses operate in a local labour market. That matching is going to have to be done at local level.

  Ms Seaman: We have yet to see how it works but I think it would have to be local based on local areas and local needs.

  Mr Wainer: I agree.

  Q44  Chairman: All of you started by making it clear that you felt that, first of all, apprenticeships would only work if in fact there was strong engagement by employers. In other words, it was an experience led apprenticeship scheme. I think you all subscribe to that. What are your views about programme led apprenticeships which are delivered through training providers and FE[3] colleges? Do they have a place?

  Mr Frost: We are absolutely clear. We believe for those apprenticeship schemes to work they must be employer led.

  Q45  Chairman: End of story?

  Mr Frost: Yes.

  Mr Jaffa: We would agree with that.

  Mr Wainer: I think just increasing apprenticeship numbers through programme led apprenticeships is not going to do anyone any good. We have to make sure the scheme really does deliver to employers and young people.

  Ms Seaman: Our employers would say that they need to be work based and in the workplace to make them effective.

  Q46  Ian Stewart: If it is to be employer led, as you all consistently argue, how are you going to guarantee that employers are committed to it and contribute to it? How do you maintain standards?

  Mr Wainer: I do not think flexibility and quality are mutually exclusive. Mr Boswell asked how do we develop a strong apprenticeship brand. I think brands develop because people are confident they deliver quality and value for money. If a young person can see that an apprenticeship is preparing them well for a future career, is developing those wider employability skills, that is how the brands will develop. That is where young people and their parents will be confident that an apprenticeship is a good option for them.

  Q47  Dr Iddon: The employers have not always been very positive about employing apprentices, have they? I can remember a time when I was responsible for a direct labour organisation. We had 42 apprentices for the construction industry. The construction industry itself had very few apprentices at that time. They relied on somebody like us lending out our apprentices to them after we had trained them.

  Mr Wainer: It comes back to Matthew's point. Employers are not there to educate young people. We need to ensure that there are more young people of all abilities, not just perhaps those deemed by teachers and careers advisers as less suitable for the academic route. If we get a higher quality of applicants into a lot of these apprenticeship schemes, I think a lot more employers will be interested in getting involved.

  Q48  Ian Stewart: Did I hear you right? Employers are not there to educate people?

  Mr Wainer: No. They are there to train people. There is a frustration that employers are delivering literacy and numeracy training that really should have been sorted out at school.

  Chairman: On that note, could I thank Richard, Anne, David and Matthew very much indeed for starting us off this afternoon.

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