Widening access is the only way to meet the 3 million apprenticeship target

12 October 2015

When it comes to apprenticeship policy, we all spend a lot of time talking about the apprentice National Minimum Wage. Last week, we saw the biggest ever increase in the rate, of 57p. Apprentice pay now stands at £3.30 per hour

There’s an important debate to be had about what a fair wage for apprentices means. We need a wage that makes apprenticeships accessible to everyone and attractive to the very best candidates; but doesn’t prevent employers from creating opportunities. We simply can’t deliver 3 million apprenticeships if the applicants can’t afford to live. 

It’s not acceptable that some people just can’t take on, or complete an apprenticeship simply for financial reasons. But pay isn’t the whole story; there are other ways to make the system fairer. As the government prioritises an increase in apprentice numbers, they need to deliver policy changes that make it possible.

Apprenticeships are often badged as an opportunity to “earn while you learn”. But the reality is that for those young people who choose traditional routes, there’s much more support available. Government can intervene to help apprenticeships become a genuine alternative to traditional routes:

1. Education maintenance: whether it’s access to maintenance grants and loans at university or Care to Learn funding at college, there’s still support available for more traditional education. Education maintenance should be extended to support people who choose apprenticeships too, including access to FE bursaries. 

2. Benefits: If young people stay in education until they’re 18, their parents can continue to claim Child Tax Credits, but only for ‘approved’ training. Although ‘A levels’ are included in that list – apprenticeships aren’t. This could mean a reduction of £1066 a year from the family budget. A simple policy change as part of Universal Credit roll-out would fix this. 

3. Apprentice pay: There needs to be a debate about the rate apprentices should be paid at, one that’s evidence-based rather than ideological. But while apprentices are contributing to the cost of their training through lower wages, we have to reassure applicants and apprentices that they really are investing in quality. I think our Apprentice Charter would do exactly that.

These are quick, easy and inexpensive policy solutions, and there are plenty of other ways to widen access to apprenticeships.  We have to put apprenticeships on an equal footing, starting from a financial perspective, but that conversation can’t be limited to pay.  

What do you think are the real barriers to meeting the 3 million target?