The BBC reported this week on the findings of the Richard Review on the future of apprenticeships in England published on 27 November 2012.
Entrepreneur Doug Richard was asked to consider how to ensure that apprenticeships deliver high-quality training and the qualifications and skills that learners need.
As successive governments have encouraged young people to consider apprenticeships instead of university, recent years have seen an increase in the number of apprenticeships in England. However concerns about quality are abound with some apprenticeships being as short as three months.
The Review’s findings are that the definition of apprenticeship has been "stretched too far" and needs rethinking with a warning that in many cases the usual relationship between the employer and the person being trained has been lost.
- Redefining apprenticeships - they should be targeted only at those who are new to a job that needs sustained and substantial training.
- Focusing on the outcome of an apprenticeship – focus on what the apprentice can do when they complete their training.
- Recognised industry standards forming the basis of every apprenticeship – the development of new apprenticeship qualifications.
- All apprentices reaching a good level in English and Maths before they can complete their apprenticeship.
- Government funding creating the right incentives for apprenticeship training - the purchasing power for investing in apprenticeship training should lie with the employer.
- The encouragement of greater diversity and innovation in training – with employers and government taking a more active role in safeguarding quality.
In the review Mr Richard commented"apprenticeships or the notion of them are popular" however that this has led to a number of situations being labelled apprenticeships which, in fact, were not.
Mr Richard put it that "Simply enough, not all instances of training on a job are apprenticeships”.
Length of apprenticeships
His findings warn that the core features of what makes apprenticeships work are at risk of being lost, commenting that those lasting for weeks or months can fail to meet the mark. A key conclusion of the Review is that to genuinely train someone in a new role apprenticeships in England should last for at least one year.
While acknowledging that skills needed for a job could be covered in shorter periods of time, Mr Richard emphasises in the review the gap and time it takes "the individual to transform from an apprentice to a skilled worker".
This follows complaints about low quality apprenticeships lasting only a matter of weeks or months offered by some agencies and businesses in reality in exchange for cheaper labour and government funding.
The Review does not shy away from criticising the government, highlighting that the essence of an apprenticeship i.e. the relationship between the employer and the trainee is being eroded with more schemes becoming training initiatives that are government-led, driven by training professionals and not employers.
To tackle the issues identified, the Review calls for the introduction of a new qualification stating what a person should be able to do and know at the end of their training.
A new qualification driven by employers
The recommendation is that any qualification launched should not be too rigid and also offer a skill set broad enough to be applicable to other jobs.
The Richard Review calls for new qualifications where employers not ministers have set the bar free of the "bureaucratic box ticking assessment" and "micro-level" direction that is said to feature in current vocational qualifications
"It is complicated and off-putting to an employer to have to undertake paperwork gymnastics to pigeonhole their system into a redefined set of curricular approaches," he adds.
Mr Richard argues that for apprenticeships to not be considered as lower status to the university route they must be "well regarded" so the need for robust testing and validation of apprentice’s accomplishments.
The government welcomed the report and said it would respond in full in due course.
Business Secretary Vince Cable’ said:
“His recommendations will help us to build on the current successes of our apprenticeships programme and tailor a programme which is sustainable, high-quality and meets the changing needs of our economy in the decades to come”
Education Secretary Michael Gove commented that is was vital that the bar be raised on apprenticeships to have a programme suited to the future.