Apprenticeships and traineeships for 16 to 19 year olds - Education Contents

2  The quality and range of apprenticeship provision

The quality of apprenticeships for young people

17. In 2013/14, there were 134,500 under 19s participating in intermediate (level 2) apprenticeships, and 58,100 in advanced apprenticeships (level 3).[24] We received a range of views about the quality of level 2 schemes. Professor Paul Croll suggested that for the "traditional age range of 16 to19 […] on the whole that traditional model does offer pretty good quality".[25] Professor Alison Fuller disagreed:

    About 70% of those youngsters who start an apprenticeship, in that age band, go on to a Level 2 apprenticeships […] The minimum criteria for the Level 2 should be one year's duration and allow you to attain some Level 2 awards. Is that really a secure platform for progression for future earnings and secure trajectories into higher paid and higher skilled jobs? I am not sure that it is. In comparator countries that would not count as an apprenticeship.[26]

18. City and Guilds highlighted the varied quality across different sectors:

    These now range from genuinely skilled occupations which demand two years of solid training and substantial part time education (eg construction trades), through to lower skill occupations which, if entered outside of apprenticeship would involve short term on the job training lasting as little as three months (eg some retail sales and/or customer service occupations).[27]

19. David Sims, Research Director at the National Foundation for Educational Research, and Professor Fuller both agreed that some schemes under the apprenticeship brand should not count as apprenticeships.[28] David Massey from UKCES said that the focus should be on outcomes:

    If it is a Level 2 and is delivering good outcomes in terms of earnings later on, and that is what employers say they need, that could still be high quality. Ideally they would move on to a Level 3, and that should still be the case.[29]

20. The Aspire Group suggested that removing level 2 schemes "would have a catastrophic impact on social mobility, as young people with modest to low academic achievement would no longer be able to gain a vocational position and progress".[30] Similarly Tom Wilson, Director of UnionLearn, told the Association of Employment and Learning Providers' conference in February 2015 that abolishing level 2 apprenticeships "would frankly be a grave injustice to the thousands and thousands of apprentices who've currently got level two".[31] He argued that level 3 apprenticeships should be the norm but that the way to achieve that aim was "not just to abolish at a stroke level two, it's to work with employers, work with unions, work with the sector bodies and try and create that sense of progression".[32]

21. Level 2 schemes are particularly popular in certain specific sectors. SkillsActive, the Sector Skills Council for active leisure and wellbeing, reported that more than 10% of all level 2 apprenticeships were in hairdressing and barbering, where level 2 schemes were the norm.[33]

The range of apprenticeship frameworks

22. In August 2014 there were 328 different apprenticeship frameworks across 170 different industries.[34] The Government is looking to encourage more businesses to develop apprenticeships in a range of sectors, "including areas where apprenticeships were not previously available".[35] Since 2011 the DfE's focus has been on encouraging growth in the number of higher apprenticeships, at levels 4-7,[36] few of which are undertaken by younger apprentices.[37]

23. Fair Train supported an increased range of apprenticeships, noting that take-up had so far been less successful in the third sector.[38] The Aspire Group[39] and James Whelan both suggested that some sectors had a greater range of apprenticeships than others, with Mr Whelan highlighting the example of journalism, where there was only a single framework.[40]

24. In contrast, Eileen Cavalier, CEO of the London College of Beauty Therapy, suggested that apprenticeships were not suitable in every sector. She said that for beauty therapy "it is virtually impossible to deliver the qualification as an apprentice",[41] due to legislation preventing untrained therapists from performing treatments on customers.[42]

The image of apprenticeships

25. The challenge of driving up the number of young apprentices may be made more difficult by public perception of apprenticeships. The DfE told us:

    We know that there are significant and on-going misconceptions about apprenticeships amongst young people and the people and organisations that influence them. These tend to focus on an outdated view of apprenticeship as primarily focused on manual and low level work. For instance, ICM depth tracking research shows that:

·  27% of 14 to 16 year-olds think that apprenticeships are aimed at those who don't do well at school, compared to 23% of 17 to 18 year-olds and 17% of 19 to 24 year-olds.

·  16% of 14 to 16 year-olds think that apprenticeships are only available for manual workers, compared to 10% of 17 to 18 year-olds and 8% of 19 to 24 year-olds. [43]

26. Professor Paul Croll and Professor Gaynor Atwood told us that those in the bottom quartile of academic achievement do not tend to undertake apprenticeships, despite an expectation among people in that group that they would do so—in fact apprentices tend to be from the third quartile of academic attainment.[44]

27. The Association of School and College Leaders was one of several organisations to suggest that apprenticeships are viewed by some as a "second class option".[45] The contributions to our online forum, hosted on,illustrate the negative perception of apprenticeships. "Raineandfyre", a member of the forum, commented:

    At one time, if you were an apprentice you were probably being trained for a highly skilled, highly paid job in heavy industry (eg. as an electrician in a coal mine). You were promised a job for life which could more than support you and your family, as the high risks of injury or death involved in your working life were rewarded with an excellent fair wage and pension. What can you get now? £2 odd an hour and a BTEC at the end of it?

28. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development highlighted "this perception that university offers more opportunities and choice which can heavily influence the decisions of parents and children as to what route they should choose".[46]

29. Negative perceptions of apprenticeships are also a problem for employers. Dan Hooper from the Federation of Small Businesses summarised employers' views:

    We do not like to see apprenticeships linked with youth unemployment, because from a small business perspective our members tell us that makes them think it is a Government programme and they are getting poor-quality students. To bleed the point dry on quality, it would help if Government rhetoric changed. Government has a powerful voice in talking about youth employment opportunities rather than talking about supporting youth unemployment initiatives. That would change business perception and would hopefully feed down into schools[47]


30. The number of young people starting apprenticeships in recent years has been a consistent but low proportion of the numbers of young people involved in vocational education. We welcome the improvement in the number of quality apprenticeships for young people lasting at least 12 months but overall numbers have not increased.

31. 16-19 year olds tend to undertake level 2 apprenticeships, which vary in the degree of demand made of the apprentice.

32. The Government is seeking to increase the number of apprenticeships by extending the range of sectors in which apprenticeships that are available. It is important to ensure that such growth does not sacrifice quality, as apprenticeships should always require substantial training and always deliver a substantial uplift in earning power for the apprentice. Level 2 apprenticeships that comply with these principles should be retained.

33. Excessive emphasis on apprenticeships as a means to combat youth unemployment risks reinforcing the myth that apprenticeships are a second class option and damages the apprenticeship brand.

34. The central challenge for the Government is to incentivise an increase in the number of young people undertaking apprenticeships at the same time as improving the quality of provision and its impact on earnings.

24   BIS, Breakdown by level and age: participation 2002/03 to 2013/14 Back

25   Q4 Back

26   Q6 Back

27   City & Guilds () para 6 Back

28   Q10 [David Sims]; [Professor Alison Fuller] Back

29   Ibid [David Massey] Back

30   Aspire Group (AAT0010) para 3.11 Back

31   "Unionlearn rejects Labour apprenticeship policy as AELP looks five years ahead", FE Week, 20 February 2015 Back

32   Ibid. Back

33   SkillsActive () para 5 Back

34   DfE () para 2.2 Back

35   DfE () para 2.7 Back

36   Ibid., para 2.3 Back

37   BIS, Apprenticeships starts by geography, age and level, 2002/03-2013/14 Back

38   Fair Train () para 3.2 Back

39   The Aspire Group () para 5.1 Back

40   James Whelan () para 1 Back

41   Q95 Back

42   Q96 Back

43   DfE () para 7.2 Back

44   Professor Paul Croll and Professor Gaynor Attwood () para 4 Back

45   Association of School and College Leaders () para 12 Back

46   Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development () para 22 Back

47   Q317 [Dan Hooper] Back

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Prepared 9 March 2015