Participation by 16-19 year olds in education and training - Education Contents

4  Apprenticeships for young people

120. Employment with training will be one of the ways in which young people can meet their obligation, under the Education and Skills Act 2008, to take part in education or training up until the age of 18. A standard model for such provision is an Apprenticeship. For some, as we noted in paragraph 61, this will be the preferred option, as it will provide a salary as well as a way of improving skills.

The characteristics of Apprenticeships

121. Whereas businesses can and do offer their own, self-funded apprenticeship schemes, there has been a resurgence of publicly-funded Apprenticeships in recent years, and both this Government and its predecessors have put considerable effort into promoting the brand and stimulating the supply of Apprenticeship places. This Government describes Apprenticeships as its "flagship skills programme and a key route for raising the participation age in learning".[208] The essentials of publicly-funded Apprenticeships are:

  • A blend of work-based and theoretical learning for an employee (either a new recruit or an existing employee), with no upper age limit
  • Normally 30 hours or more paid employment per week, but with a minimum of 16 hours
  • A training element amounting to at least 280 guided learning hours per year, of which at least 100 hours or 30% (whichever is the greater) must be delivered off the job and must be "clearly evidenced"[209]
  • Training can be provided by a college, a training provider or by the employer itself
  • Public funding is provided, via the National Apprenticeship Service, for the training element (100% of costs for Apprentices aged 16-18; up to 50% for older apprentices)

The costs to the employer include salary (the National Apprenticeship Service cites research from 2008 indicating an average salary for Apprentices of £170 per week)[210] and the costs of supervision, support and mentoring.

122. Apprenticeships are available at three levels:

  • Intermediate Apprenticeships (leading to a qualification equivalent to five good GCSE passes)
  • Advanced Apprenticeships (equivalent to two A Level passes)
  • Higher Apprenticeships, which work towards (for instance) NVQ Level 4 qualifications.[211]

123. Apprenticeship frameworks (setting out high-level curricula) and apprenticeship standards (setting out the standards to which frameworks must conform) were established on a statutory basis by the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009. The Act also put in place a duty on the Chief Executive of Skills Funding to secure the availability of apprenticeship places "in sufficient number and variety" for there to be suitable places for every suitably qualified young person who wants one. However, provisions within the Education Bill now before Parliament would replace that duty with a requirement to prioritise funding for young people who have secured an apprenticeship place. The Government argues that the power to offer Apprenticeships lies with employers rather than with the Chief Executive of Skills Funding, and that therefore the revised duty would be more realistic.[212]

124. Both this Government and its predecessor have sought to increase the number of Apprenticeships offered by employers. Statistics published shortly before we agreed this Report showed a substantial growth in Apprenticeship starts in 2009/10 when compared with 2008/09: 279,700, as opposed to 239,900, representing an increase of 16.6%. The increase was higher than average for learners under 19, who registered 116,800 "starts", 17.5% more than in 2008/09. Rates of completion (or "Apprenticeship framework achievements") also rose from 2008/09 to 2009/10: there were 171,500 completions in 2009/10, an increase of 19.6% upon 2008/09. However, the rate of increase in completions by learners under 19 was rather lower, at 7.9%.[213] We welcome the latest statistics on Apprenticeships, showing a major increase in Apprenticeship starts, with growth at all levels and for both under-19 year olds and 19-24 year olds.

Access to Apprenticeships for under 19 year olds

125. One of the most striking features of these statistics is the rise in the number of Apprenticeship starts by learners under 19, despite a trend, identified by Professor Wolf in her Review of Vocational Education, for government policy on Apprenticeships to be targeted increasingly on 18-24 year olds and—more recently—on people aged 25 or above. Professor Wolf described this trend as "very problematic at a time of high youth unemployment and when the statutory participation age is about to rise". She noted that "major recruitment efforts" since 2008/09, when the figures for 16-18 year old Apprentices were especially low, had reversed the fall overall; but numbers were still in decline in certain sectors, such as construction.[214]

126. Professor Wolf referred in her report to the "vanishing youth labour market", not just in England but across the developed world.[215] The Minister observed in evidence to us that the number of jobs you "can get and keep that do not require core skills" has fallen;[216] and Professor Unwin took a similar view.[217] As the Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges said, the point of entry to the job market "is now presumed to be 19 rather than 16".[218]

127. Mirroring this decline in job opportunities for 16 to 18 year olds is the steady increase in levels of participation in education and training post-16, creating a more highly qualified workforce at 18 (and indeed 21). As a result, employers can raise the entry standard and still fill vacancies, taking many Apprenticeships out of reach for 16 and 17 year olds, particularly for those with low attainment levels.[219] Professor Wolf noted that Advanced Apprentices at Airbus will now typically have A levels, and that the average age at which Apprentices at Network Rail start is now "well over 19".[220] SEMTA[221] provided evidence that other employers might be thinking along these lines, citing the aerospace and nuclear industries.[222]

128. Some employers are not confident in some younger people's readiness for work, whether because they lack basic language, communication and arithmetical skills or softer skills such as teamworking, presentation, customer service, problem solving and a professional approach. For example, Caroline Blackman, Head of Organisational Effectiveness at Laing O'Rourke, told us that some 50% of applicants failed to get through standard aptitude testing, most failing on numeracy and literacy.[223]

129. Professor Wolf concluded that 16 to 18 year olds are "extremely ill-served" by the vocational education system's neglect of mathematics and English, despite these subjects' "crucial role" in both the labour market and progression to higher education. She therefore recommended that students who were under 19 and who had not achieved a GCSE in English and/or mathematics at A*-C should be required, as part of their learning programme, "to pursue a course which either leads directly to these qualifications or which provides significant progress towards future GCSE entry and success".[224] The Government, in its response to Professor Wolf's report, agreed with the essence of her argument and undertook to examine evidence of good practice among schools, colleges and other providers in enabling young people to progress to GCSE level qualifications at 16 or soon after, before publishing its findings and recommendations by December 2011.[225]

130. Witnesses who gave evidence to our inquiry after publication of the Government's response to the Wolf Report, on 12 May 2011, and who expressed opinions on the Report, generally supported it and the Government's response. Martin Doel, Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges, said that he was particularly pleased that the recommendation on English and mathematics GCSE "had been softened somewhat, to attend to the fact that some young people at 16 won't find English and maths GCSE the right way forward to engage them".[226] Martin Ward, Deputy General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, agreed, saying that over-emphasis on English and mathematics GCSE, as distinct from numeracy and literacy, "would not necessarily be helpful".[227] We welcome the Government's measured response to the recommendation by Professor Wolf in her review of vocational education that students under 19 who had not achieved GCSE mathematics and/or English at grade A*-C should continue to study towards it beyond the age of 16. We agree that existing good and innovative practice in provision of English and mathematics courses for these young people should be assessed before further policy decisions are taken.

131. SEMTA told us that some employers feared that the Apprenticeship programme, which they used and trusted, might be changed by the Government to accommodate "low achievers and the disaffected".[228] We did not hear or receive evidence to suggest that the Government was planning to impose upon employers a lower threshold for entry to Apprenticeships. What the Government has announced is a new Access to Apprenticeships 'pathway', to enable up to 10,000 vulnerable young people to benefit from an Apprenticeship.[229] Mr Hayes told us that

    What I want to create is a pathway that is progressive, rigorous and just as seductive as the academic route that many of us took. That means moving people from disengagement to engagement through bite-sized chunks of learning. It means providing access to apprenticeship courses that then lead to levels 2 and 3 and beyond.[230]

Fuller details of the Access to Apprenticeship pathway are to be announced in the autumn.

132. Employers should not be expected to lower their requirements for entry to Apprenticeships in order to help meet a Government policy aim. Apprenticeships, if they are to retain the confidence of employers, should be for those who are prepared to show commitment, so they should be extended rather than brief (normally two years minimum); and it is acceptable for Apprentices to have relatively low rates of pay up until the completion of their Apprenticeship framework.

Maintaining quality while stimulating supply

Payments to employers

133. The formal training and accreditation of Apprentices aged 16 to 18 is publicly funded, and employers pay an hourly wage whether the Apprentice is at work or training offsite. Professor Wolf put forward an argument in her report that Apprentices should be "primarily engaged in learning" and that, as a corollary, employers should be operating in part as educators and should therefore be recompensed for this part of their role, directly or indirectly. She described this as "standard practice in other countries with large apprenticeship programmes".[231] Professor Unwin noted that practice in this respect differed across Europe: in Germany, only a few employers are given extra funds, and the bulk of them receive no support for training costs.[232]

134. The Government, in its response to Professor Wolf's report, said that "payments to employers can be an effective way to encourage them to take on Apprentices" and that it would assess the costs and benefits involved.[233] We are doubtful about the merits of such payments, which would obscure an important principle. We believe that the main motive for an employer to take on Apprentices should be to make a long-term investment in their workforce for the benefit of their staff and for good business reasons. We recommend that the Government should publish its assessment of the costs and benefits of paying employers to take on Apprentices, before it decides whether or not to go ahead. On the existing knowledge base, however, the Committee does not support the principle of payments to employers taking on Apprentices.

Programme-led Apprentices and Apprentice Training Agencies

135. There is very great demand for respected Apprenticeship programmes. Laing O'Rourke told us that it had received 1,200 applications for its four-year Apprenticeship Plus programme, and that 31 of these had been taken on.[234] Network Rail received nearly 8,000 applications in 2010 for 200 Apprenticeships;[235] and Kwik-Fit told us that its Apprenticeships were oversubscribed "to the tune of some 4,000 for every 120 places".[236] The excess of demand over supply led to the development of Programme-led Apprenticeships: these were classroom-based courses (normally based in colleges and offered as full-time vocational courses) conforming to a named Apprenticeship framework. The previous Government described Programme-led Apprenticeships as "a helpful way of catering to the demands of prospective Apprentices where there is not the immediate offer of a job available", and it noted that this type of provision appealed to some employers "as it front-loads the sometimes technical preparation for a job".[237]

136. Witnesses to our inquiry expressed support for Programme-Led Apprenticeships: SEMTA (the sector skills council for the science, engineering and manufacturing technologies) told us that Programme Led Apprenticeships enabled employers

    to recruit young people who had completed … initial training, thus reducing their costs and also the risk which comes from recruiting an individual directly into an area where they have no prior experience … Through PLA, employers were able to reduce their salary costs and recruit only those young people who had demonstrated their ability and commitment to an engineering career by completing the initial training while receiving the EMA.[238]

Eric Collis, General Manager of the Humberside Engineering Training Association, told us that the Programme-led Apprenticeship format allowed his Association to offer "a ready-made, quality-assured apprentice who we could place with [employers] and we could deal with all the bureaucracy and all the support systems that need to be taken care of". He added that the model "was extremely useful" and said that any decision to stop offering Programme-led Apprenticeships would, in his area, "reduce the number of apprentice vacancies overall" and "reduce our penetration of SMEs".[239]

137. Funding for new Programme Led Apprenticeships (PLAs) ceased on 6 April 2011. Keith Smith, representing the National Apprenticeship Service, explained that PLAs did not give the learner employed status and therefore could not be Apprenticeships under the terms of the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009.[240] The Minister, when giving oral evidence, accepted that PLAs "may have served a purpose in some cases" but said that they "were not enough like a real job".[241] Given their nature, it was probably a mistake ever to describe Programme-led Apprenticeships as a form of apprenticeship: the title set up an expectation which could not be met.[242]

138. A more recent innovation aimed at soaking up some of the demand for Apprenticeships is the concept of an apprentice training agency (ATA). The agency employs the Apprentice, co-ordinates training and hires them out to employers in order to enable them to complete the work-based components of their Apprenticeship framework. These count as Apprenticeships, as the learner has employed status; but it was suggested to us that they were less than ideal in that:

    There is less commitment to the longer term development and integration of apprentices from the employers providing work experience places, which will potentially give rise to the ATA model being seen as the sort of 'warehousing' approach associated with youth training schemes during the 1980s ... Rather than working on behalf of employers, ATAs work on behalf of the Government's desire to maximise apprenticeship places.[243]


139. The Apprenticeship brand is highly respected and is seen by young people as offering security, employer commitment and investment, and a clear pathway to career progression. The Government should not lose sight of the need to retain quality, particularly if numbers of Apprentices increase substantially. We are comforted by the statement made in oral evidence by Mr Hayes, the Minister with responsibility for further education and skills, that he recognised the danger of allowing a rapid growth in the number of Apprenticeships to dilute their quality and damage the brand, and that he had "absolutely no intention that that will happen".[244]

140. We welcome the Government's acknowledgement that driving up numbers of Apprenticeships carries a risk of diluting their quality. We question whether Apprenticeships offered through Apprenticeship Training Agencies, where there is no long-term commitment or investment on the part of the employer offering the work placement, are of the same quality as work-based Apprenticeships with a regular employer. We recommend that such opportunities should be regarded primarily as a form of training and should be treated separately for statistical purposes.

208   Written memorandum (E 101) to the Public Bill Committee considering the Education Bill: see Back

209   Specification of Apprenticeship Standards for England, BIS, January 2011 Back

210   Apprenticeship Pay: 2007 Survey of Earnings by Sector, DIUS Research Report 08/05. The minimum wage for Apprentices is £2.50 per hour for people under 19, or for people 19 or above in their first year as Apprentice. Back

211   See Back

212   Written memorandum (E 101) to the Public Bill Committee considering the Education Bill: see Back

213   All figures from Post-16 Education and Skills: learner Participation, Outcomes and Level of Highest Qualification Held, Quarterly Statistical First Release, BIS, published 23 June 2011. Figures relate to academic years. Back

214   Review of Vocational Education by Professor Wolf, March 2011, pages 164-5 Back

215   Review of Vocational Education by Professor Wolf, March 2011, page 24  Back

216   Q 286 Back

217   Q 105 Back

218   Mr Doel Q 190 Back

219   Mr Collis Q 154; also Dr Spielhofer Q 238. See also memorandum from Central London Connexions, Ev w94, paragraph 24 Back

220   Review of Vocational Education by Professor Wolf, March 2011, page 168 Back

221   The sector skills council for the science, engineering and manufacturing technologies Back

222   Ev 97 paragraph 14 Back

223   Q 151 and Q 162 Back

224   Review of Vocational Education by Professor Wolf, March 2011, pages 118-9 Back

225   Wolf Review of Vocational Education - Government Response, published on 12 May 2011 , page 7 Back

226   Q 183 Back

227   Q 184 Back

228   SEMTA, the sector skills council for the science, engineering and manufacturing technologies, Ev 96, paragraph 6 Back

229   Supporting youth employment, published on 12 May 2011, HM Government Back

230   Q 325 Back

231   Review of Vocational Education by Professor Wolf, March 2011, page 122 Back

232   Q 136 Back

233   Wolf Review of Vocational Education-Government Response, Department for Education, 12 May 2011, page 10 Back

234   Q 151 Back

235   Daily Mirror 18 January 2011 Back

236   Q 142 Back

237   World-class Apprenticeships: Unlocking Talent, Building Skills for All, DIUS/DCSF, 2008 Back

238   Ev 96 paragraph 10 Back

239   Q 173 Back

240   Q 175-6 Back

241   Q 325 Back

242   See oral evidence given by Rt Hon Jim Knight MP and Lord Young of Norwood Green to the former Children, Schools and Families Committee on 22 October 2008, published with the Fourth Report of the Children Schools and Families Committee, The Draft Apprenticeships Bill, HC 1082 of Session 2007-08. Back

243   Memorandum from Professor Alison Fuller and Professor Lorna Unwin, Ev 98 Back

244   Q 320 Back

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Prepared 19 July 2011