The following is a summary of a private meeting between representatives from the apprenticeships sector and Members of the Sub-Committee, which took place on 4 May 2016.
Structural changes to the economy have reduced the number of large firms, many of whom had traditionally supported extensive apprenticeship programmes. It was suggested that some small and medium sized businesses may lack the capacity—in facilities, staff time or institutional memory—to sustain independent schemes. They may also operate to shorter time horizons making the long-term investment required to train an apprentice less attractive. Some attendees suggested that greater collaboration between companies could help to address some of these problems.
While all attendees supported the principle of increasing the provision of high-quality apprenticeships, concerns were expressed by some that the target of three million apprenticeship starts by the end of the Parliament might inadvertently have a negative effect on standards. It was suggested that that might result in firms and public sector bodies prioritising cheaper level 2 apprenticeships, ‘rebadging’ induction training as an apprenticeship or hiring large numbers of apprentices without the capacity to provide further employment.
A number of attendees expressed concern at the scale and pace of change, and the paucity of information currently available. It was suggested that some companies might pursue a ‘wait-and-see’ strategy, suspending apprentice recruitment due to continuing uncertainty. Some expressed the view that more emphasis should be placed on learning from existing best practice.
Some attendees expressed the view that the levy might act as a disincentive to employers taking on apprentices, as the money employers received in their digital accounts could only be spent on training and assessment, and not on administration or wages. It was suggested allowing some additional expenses to be paid by digital voucher might mitigate against this.
A number of attendees expressed concern about continuing uncertainty around funding arrangements for apprentices employed by non-levy paying companies. It was suggested that this might lead to small and medium sized companies ceasing to provide apprenticeships. It was further suggested that requiring such companies to ‘co-invest’ in their apprenticeship programmes might have a similar effect.
It was suggested that without significant funding incentives employers might employ fewer 16–19 year-olds, and instead focus on lower-risk older apprentices who might provide an earlier and more consistent return on investment.
Some attendees suggested that the new Institute of Apprenticeships should act as a guarantor of high-quality apprenticeship provision and not merely a ‘rubber stamp’ for new standards. It was also suggested that the Institute should have a research function and include representation from providers and employees as well as employers.
Some attendees expressed concern at a ‘proliferation’ of very specific standards which might make it harder for former apprentices to move between industries. It was also suggested that some new standards were ill-defined and generic–partially as a result of the removal of the requirement to include qualifications within standards–and therefore difficult to assess consistently. Other attendees expressed more positive views about new standards such as the new dental technician apprenticeship.
Some attendees expressed concern about the nature of the current inspection regime. It was suggested that Ofsted did not provide sufficient encouragement and support for the improvement of provision.
Some attendees suggested that the lack of coordination between the availability of apprenticeship vacancies and the end of the school year caused significant problems and that a greater synchronisation might lead to a greater number of applications from school leavers. Comparisons were drawn to other countries in which companies offered frequent taster sessions to students to introduce them to different careers.
Some attendees suggested that more work was required to promote a positive image of apprenticeships among students and parents.
30 March 2017