8.The Government’s vision is for apprenticeships “to be available across all sectors of the economy, in all parts of the country and at all levels”. This is a laudable aim, and we commend the energy and enthusiasm demonstrated by successive Ministers in pursuing it. Stephen Tetlow MBE, Chief Executive of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, and himself a former apprentice, was one of many witnesses to extol the benefits apprenticeship had brought their industry. To illustrate his point he demonstrated a prosthetic foot, explaining that “you cannot make these unless you have a skilled workforce borne of apprentices”. Such views were particularly common in sectors long associated with apprenticeship such as engineering, manufacturing and construction.
9.Elsewhere views were more varied. The National Farmers Union was one of a number of organisations to suggest health and safety concerns and low staffing numbers made employing an apprentice difficult for the employers they represented. Representatives of the education and life sciences sectors questioned how they would find roles for large numbers of apprentices within their organisations when most of their positions required graduate-level qualifications. Pfizer told us that “for many companies in our sector apprenticeships are unfamiliar [ … ] Other countries are not running these types of apprenticeships so we are mapping new territory.
10.We also heard that too strong a focus on apprenticeships could draw attention and resources away from other forms of training. Some witnesses emphasised the importance of employer-funded degrees; others the recent decline in adults skills funding. We have sympathy with the view expressed by Marcus Mason, Head of Business, Education and Skills for the British Chambers of Commerce, that
it sometimes feels like [apprenticeship] is the only game in town for Government, and obviously businesses train and support their staff to increase productivity in a myriad of different ways.
11.The Government has begun to set out wider changes to skills training. Drawing on the work of The Independent Panel on Technical Education, the Post-16 Skills Plan outlined a simplified system of 15 routes intended to be fully operational by September 2022. The recent Budget provided further detail of how this new system of ‘T levels’ will be implemented. In a recent Green Paper, the Government acknowledged a “growing challenge” with training for older people, and committed to examining “new approaches to encouraging lifelong learning”. The Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills, Mr Halfon, explained that “it is very important not to see reform to apprenticeships by itself”.
12.We welcome the Government’s efforts to bring the benefits of apprenticeship to all sectors of the economy. Nevertheless, it must ensure apprenticeships are not seen to be the solution to every skills problem. Recent announcements suggest the Government recognises this.
13.The Minister told us that “the whole purpose of the reforms we are doing is to put the employer in the driving seat”. The Government asserts that by giving employers greater control over the content of their apprentices’ training, and allowing employers to negotiate the cost of this training directly with providers, they will be incentivised not only to train more, but to take a far greater interest in the quality and suitability of this training. The Minister told us that this would help to address skills shortages as employers would create and purchase training that better met their needs. We will examine these changes in greater detail in later chapters, but taken together they can be seen as an attempt to give employers a far stronger voice in the apprenticeship system.
14.Professor Alison Wolf, Professor of Public Sector Management at King’s College London, was supportive of these changes, stating that “good, robust, long-lived apprenticeship systems are run by employers and that when you try to do it differently, as we have just tried, it does not work very well”.
15.Not everything we heard was positive. A number of witnesses questioned whether all employers had the desire or capacity to take control of the apprenticeship system; and if this was not the case, whether the views of those who did could be considered representative. The previous Education Committee warned against the creation of a system dominated by a small number of large employers and we heard some evidence that this warning had not been heeded. Some witnesses drew attention to the declining role afforded to sector bodies, although the Government questioned how well their work had previously met the needs of employers. Dr Lynn Gambin, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Warwick’s Institute for Employment Research, doubted the desire of the majority of employers to offer apprenticeships at all.
16.We also heard wider concerns. Some witnesses stated that too little emphasis was being placed on the role played by apprentices and training providers. Others made the broader point that the Government’s model differed from many of the most successful apprenticeship systems around the world: ‘social partnerships’ between all stakeholders with clearly defined roles and responsibilities and a strong sense of mutual interest. NCFE, an awarding organisation, warned that the Government was “in danger of ignoring decades of best practice in the pursuit of a notion of ‘employer ownership’”.
17.Later in our inquiry we heard that the Government had changed tack and other stakeholders were being afforded greater influence. The Institute’s draft operational plan proposes roles
for a range of experts with a broad knowledge of occupations and training [which] could include academics, employers, professional bodies, sector/trade organisations, and National Colleges or other training providers.
Nevertheless this remains far removed from how many other countries have chosen to structure the administration of their apprenticeship programmes and places a great deal of responsibility on employers.
18.The Government is right to give employers greater influence within the apprenticeship system, but during the early stages of the process this had the effect of drowning out other voices, including those of smaller businesses. We welcome the Government’s recent announcements that suggest it now favours a more balanced approach, but remain concerned that large businesses exercise too much influence, and the views of other stakeholders with less lobbying power are given insufficient weight.
19.Over the last two decades there has been a large increase in the number of people undertaking apprenticeships. While figures are not directly comparable due to changes in how the term ‘apprenticeship’ is defined, starts rose from 65,000 in 1996/97 to 509,400 in 2015/16. The Government has committed to increasing this further: 3 million starts over the course of the Parliament. Many welcomed the target as a sign of the Government’s commitment to the apprenticeship programme. Despite expressing reservations about its impact, the British Chambers of Commerce described it as a “noble aim”. Yet some employers suggested that setting such a target was inconsistent with the Government’s stated goal of giving them greater control over the system. A more general concern, which we heard over and over again, was that too little attention was being given to other more important measures of success.
20.Some witnesses criticised the target as too simplistic. As the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission explained, it does not measure how many apprenticeships are completed—67% in 2015/16—and can “double- or even triple-count” individuals who start, but do not necessarily complete, multiple programmes during a single year. Others told us that far greater emphasis should be placed on the progression of apprentices to higher level programmes and, crucially, into secure, well-paid employment.
21.We also heard that the target could hamper attempts to raise quality. Professor Ewart Keep, Director of Oxford University’s Centre on Skills, Knowledge & Organisational Performance, spoke of the relative difficulty of measuring and promoting quality improvement, in contrast to the simplicity of a single numerical target, and his “terror” that desire to meet such a target would eventually “override other considerations”. These concerns are particular relevant as recent efforts to increase apprenticeships numbers have produced uneven results. In a 2015 survey report, Ofsted found “too much weak provision that undermines the value of apprenticeships”. Paul Joyce, Ofsted’s Deputy Director for Further Education and Skills, told us that this had improved over the last year but they had still found 37% of training provision to be less than good. Ofsted’s recent annual report stated that “too few apprenticeships deliver professional, up-to-date knowledge and skills in the sectors that need them most”.
22.The three million target is a useful symbol of the Government’s commitment to apprenticeships, but it must guard against the perception that it the only measure of success. Apprenticeship starts are the means to an end, not an end in themselves.
23.We recommend that alongside the 3 million starts target, the Government outlines far clearer outcome measures for individual apprentices. These should include programme completion, progression to higher levels and subsequent achievement of secure relevant employment. It should publish an annual survey of performance against these measures.
24.A wider question is whether the growth in starts will take place in sectors of the economy where it will do the most good, and if more should be done to make sure it does. The Government’s vision document stated that we have a
critical need for high numbers of new technical and professional skilled workers [ … ] and growing skills shortages [in sectors] increasingly critical to the strength and competiveness of the UK economy.
We heard little to contradict this. The UK Commission for Employment and Skills’ most recent survey found “209,500 reported skill-shortage vacancies [ … ] an increase of 43 per cent from the 146,000 reported in 2013”. Some witnesses told us of chronic shortages at technician level (levels 4 and 5), and in the construction, engineering and manufacturing sectors. Others drew attention to regional shortages, suggesting skills were often poorly distributed around the country.
25.The Government contends that “the expansion of apprenticeships will directly help to address these skills gaps by providing high quality training in exactly the areas that employers require”. Yet the evidence we heard suggested that this would not happen unless there was a major shift in the sectors in which these apprenticeships are undertaken. In 2015/16 more than two thirds of apprenticeships starts were in three sectors: Health, Public Services and Care, Business, Administration and Law and Retail and Commercial Enterprise. In contrast the number of starts in the Construction, Planning and the Built Environment and Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies was much lower, less than a fifth of all starts. Over half were level 2 programmes, a third at level 3. While there has been a dramatic increase in the number of higher level starts over the last five years, this was from a very low base and they remain a fraction of total starts.
26.A consistent feature of the Government’s case for expanding the apprenticeship programme is the wage benefits they produce—a key indicator that skills gained during such programmes are valued in the labour market. Its vision document stated that these “add up to between £48,000 and £74,000 for level 2 apprenticeships; and between £77,000 and £117,000 for level 3 apprenticeships”. However research conducted by the Social Market Foundation suggested these wage gains vary dramatically by sector. It found strong returns in manufacturing at both levels, but a mixed picture for level 2 apprenticeships overall and “no significant wage effect” associated with undertaking an apprenticeship in health and social care at either level. In a recent report, the National Audit Office criticised the Government for not setting out how it
plans to balance the drive for increased numbers with the need to support employers to deliver the apprenticeships that offer most value to the economy. Without this strategic underpinning, there is a clear risk that the drive to deliver greater numbers is delivered at the expense of delivering maximum value.
27.Appearing before the Public Accounts Committee in October 2016, Jonathan Slater, Permanent Secretary at the Department for Education, outlined plans to collect far more data on the “rates of return that are achieved through different apprenticeships at different levels”. He suggested that awareness of this data would incentivise employers to alter their provision to focus on areas with the highest rates of return which would lead them to address skills gaps. The Institute’s draft operational plan includes provisions to allocate standards to funding bands “in a way that provides the greatest strategic return (either to the learner, employer or wider economy)”. New funding proposals also include significant upward adjustments to the funding bands for some STEM framework pathways.
28.However we remain unconvinced that such measures go far enough. While financially incentivising employers to choose certain apprentices may bring some improvement it seems unlikely that this will shift provision dramatically from one sector to another. If the Government believes that targets are the right approach to increase participation generally, it follows that they could be used to provide greater clarity about where these increases take place. We find much to recommend in the Institution for Mechanical Engineers’ call for “prioritised, funded, sector, specialism and region-specific targets supporting the catch-all number”.
29.Such an approach would require the Government to provide greater clarity about what it wants to achieve and what success would look like. The Institute’s draft operational plan suggests that it may prioritise standards development in “sectors where we have evidence of skills gaps and that are priorities for the industrial strategy”. Yet in a recent Green Paper, the Government lamented that “no organisation has been tasked with identifying persistent or emerging sector specific gaps and proposing action” and indicated that it planned to work towards a “single, authoritative view of the gaps faced by the UK now and in the future”. This is surprising when a list of occupational shortages is already being used to decide who can and cannot immigrate to this country. The Government should use this existing knowledge to target regional and sectional skills shortages allowing the UK to fill these gaps from within rather than relying on workers from overseas.
30.We agree with Councillor Robert Light, Vice Chair of City Regions Board at the Local Government Association, that local and regional bodies should play a greater role in ensuring that available skills training better matches an area’s skills needs. As the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee said in a recent Report, this could involve greater devolution of responsibility to local authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships.
31.The Government has not set out how its increase in apprenticeship numbers will help fill the country’s skills gaps. The current balance of provision is skewed towards sectors with low wage returns and few skills shortages and we are not convinced that tinkering with funding bands will bring about the major changes necessary. The Government already makes immigration decisions on the basis of identified skills shortages; it should make greater use of this existing knowledge.
32.We recommend that the Government publishes an annual document setting out skills shortages on a national, regional and sector-specific basis and sets clear targets to ensure apprenticeship uptake in these areas is prioritised.
33.One area in which the Government is introducing an additional target is the public sector. Apprentices must make up 2.3% of the headcount of most public sector bodies with 250 or more employees, averaged over a four year period beginning in April 2017. This is aimed at closing the gap in the percentage of apprentices employed in the public and private sectors. A Government consultation on the initial proposal held last year found wide general support for apprenticeships, but qualified support for targets which were considered potentially useful but only if they are “realistic and achievable”.
34.The evidence we heard was largely negative. NHS Employers identified a lack of higher and degree level standards, business need caused by outsourcing of services and staff to provide support and mentoring as “key barriers”. A number of submissions suggested that setting the target on the basis of headcount rather than Full Time Equivalency would disproportionately affect employers with large numbers of flexible and part-time workers. We are especially concerned that much of the increase in numbers could come from the rebadging of existing programmes. For example, in a recent article, Lucy Hunte, Apprenticeship Lead for Health Education England—North, Central & East London, wrote that
the beauty of many of the new apprenticeship standards is that they do not have a mandatory qualification. This gives trusts the flexibility to work with a training provider to match their existing training programmes to the standards.
If such an approach was repeated on a wider scale it would do little to increase skills levels as the training would have happened already.
35.The public sector should employ more apprentices, but a blanket target risks incentivising quantity over quality and the rebadging of existing training programmes.
36.We recommend that the Government should keep the public sector target under review and enable increased participation in areas of the public sector with clear skills shortages.
37.The Minister told us that a key aim of the apprenticeship programme was “helping the socially disadvantaged” and creating a “ladder of opportunity” to help them succeed. We heard that a number of barriers remain, particularly for young people and those without family support. These included expensive or inaccessible public transport (especially in rural areas), the vagaries of the benefits system and the level of the apprentice minimum wage. Some of the apprentices we spoke to said that they had had difficulty finding appropriate programmes close to home and lacked the means to travel further. A number of witnesses raised concern about the abolition of explicitly age-related apprentice funding, an issue we will consider in more detail in Chapter 5.
38.Despite additional Government support for employers who take disadvantaged young apprentices, research conducted on behalf of Centrepoint, a charity dedicated to combatting homelessness, found that the vast majority of employers do not target any of their opportunities at them. In January 2017, the Rt. Hon Alan Milburn, chair of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, said that more affluent children are twice as likely to start a Level 3 apprenticeship [ … ] in some parts of the country than the less-off.
39.We also heard that some groups continued to be underrepresented, in certain sectors and more generally. Young Women’s Trust, a charity that supports disadvantaged young women, said that “dramatic occupational segregation by gender persists at the apprenticeship level”, with particularly low levels of female representation in sectors with higher wage returns such as such as construction and engineering. Oxfam told us that those from a black or minority background remain underrepresented. A number of submissions drew attention to the low level of uptake among those with disabilities and the barriers they faced accessing and undertaking training.
40.The Government is seeking to address many of these issues. For example, in February 2017 it launched a new Apprenticeship Diversity Champions Network chaired by Nusrat Ghani MP aimed at promoting diversity among employers and encouraged more people from underrepresented groups to become apprentices. It has also agreed to implement all the recommendations of an independent taskforce led by Paul Maynard MP that sought ways to improve access to apprenticeships for those with learning difficulties, as well as providing additional financial support to providers in such instances. More generally, it has abolished employer national insurance contributions for apprentices under 25 and launched a number of advertising campaigns. The Minister also stressed the importance of traineeships in preparing young people to begin an apprenticeship, a programme which may become more widespread following proposals in the Post-16 Skills Plan for a ‘transition year’.
41.While we accept that apprenticeships are jobs and apprentices are employed, they are also undertaking what is in effect Government-funded training. Additional support is provided to employers and providers to incentivise them to take on younger and disadvantaged apprentices, but there needs to be more support for the apprentices themselves. This could include changes to the benefits system (for example to child benefit eligibility rules), more subsidised fares on public transport or even direct financial support from Government such as bursaries.
42.Apprenticeships offer great opportunities, but they can prove difficult for some people. We welcome the Government’s commitment to widening participation, but there is more the Government can do to make this happen.
43.We recommend that the Government examine further measures to make apprenticeship more accessible to all. This could include changes to benefits rules, subsidised transport or direct financial support.
44.Many of our witnesses stressed that in order to widen participation in apprenticeship young people must receive good quality careers advice that informs that of all the available options. In our first Report we found that this was not always the case: provision in schools is “patchy and often inadequate”. Many of the apprentices we spoke to told that us that organising their apprenticeship had been a ‘do-it-yourself’ endeavour with teachers and school staff unable or unwilling to provide the support required. Some witnesses suggested that schools were actively preventing other providers from giving their students information about apprenticeships. Others said that the Government should investigate a UCAS style system to simplify the application process. We were pleased to read, in a recent Green Paper, that the Government may investigate such a system for technical education.
45.In our first Report we called for the Government to expedite the publication of its careers strategy, originally planned for Spring 2016. This did not happen. In a recent speech, the Minister said that it would now be published later this year. We also recommended that “a single Minister and a single Department” be put “in charge of co-ordinating careers provision for all ages”. We welcome the Government’s implementation of this recommendation. In January 2016, the Government announced it would be introducing legislation under which schools would
be required by law to collaborate with colleges, university technical colleges and other training providers to ensure that young people are aware of all the routes to higher skills and the workplace, including higher and degree apprenticeships.
No further details of this legislation were announced. However, in February 2017 the Government accepted an amendment to the Technical and Higher Education Bill 2016–17 proposed by Lord Baker of Dorking. This stated that schools
must ensure that there is an opportunity for a range of education and training providers to access registered pupils during the relevant phase of their education for the purpose of informing them about approved technical education qualifications or apprenticeships.
46.We agree strongly with the Government’s desire to widen participation in apprenticeships, especially among previously underrepresented groups. However barriers remain, not least the inadequate advice many young people receive about the options available to them.
47.We recommend that the Government sets out its careers strategy as soon as possible. As we said previously, it is urgently needed and must include immediate steps to ensure all young people have access to high quality careers advice.
48.The Minister told us that “until we improve the prestige—and have a national conversation about the importance—of apprenticeships, we will not achieve the number of apprenticeships that we want”, and we appreciate the good work done by him and predecessors in this regard. We were deeply impressed by the drive and ambition of the apprentices we met during our inquiry, and in particular the achievements of those who had represented our country at international skills competitions. It is crucial that more people are made aware of what they could achieve through apprenticeship.
49.Unfortunately, poor careers advice is not the only barrier to this being achieved. We heard that many parents were hostile to non-university routes, even when their child was more suited to an apprenticeship. The Challenge, a community charity, stated that its
research suggests that apprenticeship and vocational training schemes suffer from a branding problem, and are viewed by young people as old-fashioned and non-aspirational.
While it would be tempting to dismiss such concerns as prejudice, it must be recognised that, while there have always been excellent apprenticeships available, in previous years many have not been worthy of the name. It will take time to rebuild trust.
50.We fully support the Government’s attempts to improve the prestige of apprenticeships, but it will take more than words to achieve this aim. If the quality is there the prestige will follow.
16 HM Government, , December 2015, foreword
17 Q80. See also EAL () para 2, Q173
19 NFU () para 2.6. See also British Association of Leisure Parks, Piers and Attractions () para 6
20 The Russell Group () para 2.4
21 Pfizer () paras 10, 18
22 London South Bank University (), Executive Summary, The Prince’s Trust () para 9
24 BIS and DfE, , July 2016, The Independent Panel on Technical Education, , April 2016
25 HM Treasury, , HC 1025, March 2017. The Institute’s provided further detail about how apprenticeships will be integrated into this system.
26 HM Government, , January 2017, p 39
29 Qq 284, 310, HM Government, , December 2015, Foreword, para 3.2
32 Leeds College of Building () para 3, CompTIA () para 16–18
33 Education Committee, Sixth Report of Session 2014–15, ,
HC 597, para 92, Chartered Institute of Building () para 2.7, AAT () para 8
34 Qq 13 [Professor Keep], 256 [David Hill]
36 NUS, () para 9, HIT Training () para 1.3
37 Science Industry Partnership () para 8.1, Association of Teachers and Lecturers () para 2.10
38 NCFE () para 21
39 Q52 [Mark Dawe]
40 DfE, , January 2017, para 3.1.1. See also Chapter 3
41 HC Deb, 14 Feb 2011 , DfE, Further Education and Skills in England, , February 2017
42 Cabinet Office, , May 2015. There were 509,400 Apprenticeship starts in the 2015/16 academic year.
43 See, for example, Pimlico Plumbers () para 1, University Alliance () para 1
44 BCC () para 3
45 Energy & Utility Skills () para 7
46 ICAEW () para 9
47 Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission () The 3 million target: a note on data in this submission, DfE, Further Education and Skills in England, , February 2017
48 Q146 [Marcus Mason], NUS, () para 1
49 Q84 [Stephen Tetlow]
51 Ofsted, , November 2015, p 4
53 Ofsted, , December 2016, p 16
54 HM Government, , December 2015, para 1.10.
55 UKCES, , June 2016, p 12
56 Qq 7–8, 141 [Neil Carberry], Social Market Foundation () para 26
57 Q183 [Councillor Light], Alstom () para 13
58 BIS and DfE () para 1.21
59 Edge Foundation () para b, Professor Alison Fuller and Professor Laura Unwin () para 2.2
60 DfE, , January 2017
61 For an explanation of qualification levels see: “”, HM Government, accessed 22 February 2017
62 DfE, , January 2017
63 HM Government, , December 2015, para 1.2
64 Social Market Foundation () paras 4, 6, 21
65 NAO, , HC 624, September 2016, p 7
66 , HC 709, Q11
67 DfE, , January 2017, para 6.1. See also Chapter 3 and 5.
68 DfE, , October 2016, paras 26–27
69 IMechE () para 1
70 DfE, , January 2017, Executive Summary
71 HM Government, , January 2017, p 45
72 UK Visas and immigration, , November 2016
74 Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, Second Report of Session 2016–17, , HC 616, para 117
75 Enterprise Act 2016, “”, DfE, January 2017
76 DfE, , November 2015, DfE, , January 2017, para 15
77 DfE, , January 2017, para 14
78 NHS Employers () para 1.8
79 See, for example, Public Sector People Managers Association () para 6, Unison () para 2
80 “, FE Week, February 2017
82 See, for example, YMCA England () para 3.1, NCFE () para 14, Q52 [Shakira Martin], Education for Engineering () para 9. Additional support is available in some circumstances. See Chapter 5.
83 Centrepoint () para 15 (76% of employers). See also Chapter 5
84 “”, Independent, January 2017
85 Young Women’s Trust () para 4
86 Oxfam () para 10
87 See, for example, United Response (), The Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths ()
88 “”, TES, February 2017
89 BIS & DWP, “”, July 2016, Q322.
90 DfE, “”, April 2016, “”, DfE, May 2016
91 Q322, BIS & DfE, , July 2016, paras 4.14, 4.2, 4.9
92 See, for example, London Assembly () para 6, Federation of Small Businesses () para 27
93 Sub-Committee on Education, Skills and the Economy, First Report of Session 2016–17, , HC 205, Summary
94 See, for example, Devon and Cornwall Training Provider Network () para 17, Universities UK () para 24
95 See, for example, Balfour Beatty () para 21, Chartered Institute of Building () para 5.7. HM Government, , January 2017, p 16
96 DfE () para 16
97 “”, DfE, January 2017
98 Sub-Committee on Education, Skills and the Economy, First Report of Session 2016–17, , HC 205, para 44
99 “”, FE Week, August 2016
100 “”, DfE, January 2016
101 HL Deb, 22 February 2017 cols
102 As above
104 “”, WorldSkills UK, accessed 22 February 2017
105 Birmingham and Solihull Work Based Training Provider Network () para 8
106 The Challenge () para 7
30 March 2017