Apprenticeships - Business, Innovation and Skills Committee Contents

1  Introduction

A brief history of apprenticeships

1.  The history of apprenticeships in England goes back to the Middle Ages. One of the first documents attempting to set out the terms and conditions for training was the Elizabethan Statute of Artificers in 1563.[1] From this early formalisation of the master-apprentice relationship, the apprenticeship grew over the centuries. By the late nineteenth century, the scope of apprenticeships had spread from what was (at the time) more traditional trades such as construction, paper-making and printing to encompass emerging sectors such as engineering and shipbuilding. Apprenticeships today continue to reflect the emerging sectors in the economy such as retail, business and information technology. The most popular apprenticeship subject in 2010-11 was 'customer service'.[2]

2.  Governments have always had an interest in apprenticeships. However, as the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) website explains, recent state involvement in apprenticeships has been variable:

    The level of state intervention in this country has varied over recent decades, from levy-funded programmes via the industrial training boards in the 1960s and 1970s, to no support or intervention at all in the early 1990s.[3]

3.  In 1994, the Government responded to concerns about skills shortages in the UK by announcing plans for a new apprenticeship scheme. Several elements of the 'Modern Apprenticeship' have since been reformed, but a focus on occupational competence has been a central theme. NAS states that changes and increased investment made by the Government since 1997 have led to "a major improvement in the number of Apprentices and in the quality of Apprenticeships".[4] In 2010-11, the total number of apprenticeship 'starts' was 457,200.[5] The programme cost for the same period was approximately £1.2bn.[6]

Apprenticeships today

4.  The National Audit Office (NAO) recently published a report on adult apprenticeships, in which it described the apprenticeship framework as follows:

    Under the Programme, an apprentice performs paid full-time work while receiving training towards a framework of vocational qualifications. [7]

    Within this programme:

    An apprenticeship framework is a package of training involving several components (all of which must be passed by the apprentice):
  • a competency element, leading to a National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) or similar qualification, which assesses how well the apprentice performs a particular occupation;
  • a knowledge element, leading to a qualification such as a diploma, which covers the theoretical knowledge required by an individual in a particular sector; and
  • training in 'key' or 'functional skills', leading to qualifications in maths and English.[8]

    5.  Responsibility for public funding of apprenticeships is now shared between the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), which funds adult apprenticeships, and the Department for Education (DfE), which funds 16-18 year olds. Working together, the two departments determine the overall strategy and the policy context, funding levels and volumes for the apprenticeship programme. This is co-ordinated through the single joint 'Apprenticeships Unit' which spans both departments. All significant decisions affecting the programme as a whole are shared, while the Minister of State for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning also works across both departments.

    6.  The apprenticeship programme is delivered by NAS, which was established in January 2008 (and officially launched in April 2009). The Service was created to bring about "significant growth in the number of employers offering Apprenticeships and support, fund and co-ordinate the delivery of Apprenticeships throughout England".[9] NAS is responsible for the national delivery of targets and co-ordination of the funding for apprenticeship places. NAS is a discrete part of the Skills Funding Agency (SFA), which manages contracts and provides finance and administration services. The NAO summarised the structure and roles of the key bodies involved in the apprenticeship programme as follows:

    Figure 1: Key organisations involved in the Apprenticeship Programme[10]

    Our inquiry

    7.  We announced an inquiry into apprenticeships in December 2011. Among the questions we posed at that stage were:

    • How successful has the National Apprenticeship Service been since it was created in April 2009? Has it helped bridge the gap between the two funding Departments (BIS and Department for Education)?
    • Is the extra funding promised by the Coalition Government necessary for apprenticeships? How can this funding best be spent?
    • Are apprenticeships of a high enough quality to benefit apprentices and their employers? Should there be more Level 3 apprenticeships?
    • Apprenticeship bonuses—how should they function? Will they encourage the involvement of more small and medium sized businesses to take on apprentices? If not what will?
    • Is the current funding arrangement for training of apprentices of 100 per cent for 16-18 year olds and 50 per cent for 19-24 year olds appropriate?[11]

    We are grateful to all witnesses for their contributions to this inquiry and to all those who submitted written evidence. We are also grateful to staff at the Apprenticeship Unit and the National Audit Office for their assistance.

    1   For more information on the history of Apprenticeships, see: [accessed 18 April 2012] Back

    2   National Audit Office, Adult Apprenticeships, 1 February 2012, page 4 Back

    3   National Apprenticeship Service website, History of Apprenticeships [accessed 18 April 2012] Back

    4   National Apprenticeship Service website, History of Apprenticeships [accessed 18 April 2012] Back

    5   Quarterly Statistical First Release, Post-16 Education & Skills: Learner Participation, Outcomes and Level of Highest Qualification Held, 11 October 2012 Back

    6   National Audit Office, Adult Apprenticeships, 1 February 2012, page 14, figure 2 Back

    7   National Audit Office, Adult Apprenticeships, 1 February 2012, para s 1.1 & 1.3 (extracts) Back

    8   National Audit Office, Adult Apprenticeships, 1 February 2012, paras 1.1 & 1.3 (extracts)  Back

    9   National Apprenticeship Service website, National Apprenticeship Service: Apprenticeships [accessed 18 April 2012] Back

    10   National Audit Office, Adult Apprenticeships, 1 February 2012, page 12 Back

    11   Business, Innovation and Skills Committee website, Business, Innovation and Skills Committee announces new inquiry into Apprenticeships [accessed 25 July 2012] Back

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    © Parliamentary copyright 2012
    Prepared 6 November 2012