Quantity through quality

29 September 2015

How to meet the Government’s 3 million apprenticeship target was the subject of our joint fringe with the Association of Colleges at the Labour Party conference today. We’d asked the valid question about quality versus quantity, and the obvious conclusion I took away is that these two are not in tension. The feeling I got was that everyone came away believing that improving the quality of apprenticeships (and making sure everyone knows about that quality) is the only sensible way to hit the target.

How to define quality, how to deliver it and how to make sure people know about it then become the tougher questions which need addressing. The contributors made some headway on this and I took away four key issues which emerged from the debate.


We need to build on the great progress made in some cities and Local Enterprise Partnerships on building awareness about apprenticeships in key sectors. More work is needed on the pathways people can take into good jobs through traineeships and apprenticeships. The local labour market is a great place to start to define quality in terms of job outcomes and helping people make their first steps into a rewarding career, which of course might move them beyond the local labour market in the future.


Current participation in apprenticeships is very uneven. Access is clearly unfair given the low percentage of BME people (9% compared with 15% of overall population) and people with disabilities (only 13% of apprentices). We need a concerted effort and resources to address these challenges, along with a strategy. There is a real opportunity to use the new levy and the Government target of halving the disability employment gap to shine the light on the access issue. Thinking about the links with other programmes is key – Work Programme, Work Choice, Traineeships, degree programmes, and so on.


One of our panellists, Amelia Kury, a level 4 apprentice now at Kent County Council, said how important this is. She contrasted a previous apprenticeship with very low pay and no learning to her current one in which her progress has been linked to very welcome and well-earned pay rises. With the gender pay gap for apprentices at 22% and barriers for young people wanting to do an apprenticeship, but unable to afford housing costs, this is a big issue for the programme and for employers.

Job and lifelong learning outcomes

There seemed to be a simple consensus that a good quality apprenticeship has to be about getting a job at the end, having career prospects and being able to carry on learning and developing. The best employers already offer this. The question is, how do we incentivise this for every apprentice? Payments for job outcomes would help, but at NIACE we have introduced the concept of an Apprentice Charter  which the best employers would sign up to. It would offer them a quality mark to prove that they were offering a good experience and great outcomes. It would offer parents, advisers and potential apprentices clear information about how seriously an employer will be about helping them develop a career.

So, some great discussion, some big ideas and food for thought. Not bad for a breakfast fringe.

Our fringe event was sponsored by NOCN and will be repeated at the Conservative Party conference  on Monday 5 October during the breakfast slot.