Helping Government reforms achieve high quality apprenticeships

22 January 2016

At our roundtable with Policy Exchange yesterday, the Skills Minister, Nick Boles, set out a thorough and clear set of reforms he is driving forward to ensure that the 3million apprenticeship target is met through high quality.  He rightly says that the levy is a game-changer and I share his excitement about how this will draw in employers who now have to invest in apprenticeship training, many for the first time. 

With the new Institute for Apprenticeships setting standards, the levy bringing new investment and plans for better outcome data, it is fair to say that this Government is working hard on this. The side-issue of the internal structure of the new Institute will have to be revealed in good time – in fact I’d be worried if the Minister knew that at this stage because there is more work to do on the role of the Institute before staff numbers can be finalised.

My presentation to the round table and to the Minister focused on the gap we believe needs to be filled to achieve high quality. The simplest way to describe it is to imagine advising a young person weighing up their options at age 18. The intelligence about higher education institutions, courses and the job and pay outcomes is comprehensive, as is good feedback from students about their experiences. 

Compare that with the paucity of information about apprenticeships. Yes, there is some data about Ofsted inspection of the college or training provider and about success rates. But there is nothing which will give a prospective apprentice any comparable information about how well-supported the they would be in an apprenticeship with the employer. We know that a small proportion of employers are not supporting high quality apprenticeships, but it’s impossible to find out who they are. And there’s no apprentice experience feedback to help you either.

This lack of intelligence makes it a far more risky decision to take the apprenticeship route.

This is where our Apprentice Charter will help. It will build on our  research with apprentices which shows that it is the whole apprentice experience which matters – the complex interplay of recruitment practices, induction, support, mentoring, management, whole organisation experience, advice about future careers, clarity on potential outcomes, pay, future pay, progression and so on.

Critically we want to assess what the employer is trying to offer with the actual experience of apprentices with that employer. In doing this we will help Identify the best employers who are offering great experience and great outcomes for apprentices. The ones who see this an investment, for long term return.

This will improve the reputation of apprenticeships with parents, young people, adults and advisers who will be able to see what the whole offer is. It will improve the credibility of apprenticeships as a route to future career & help compete with HE route.

At the roundtable yesterday employers and others also felt that the Charter would help employers new to Apprenticeships to set up a high quality Programme. It wil provide a framework for employers to reap the many benefits of good apprenticeships – loyal staff, higher productivity, improved quality. 

So let’s not get hung up now about staff numbers in the new Institute for Apprenticeships. Let’s work with the Government and support the reforms, but let’s also go further to give the best employers a vehicle for showing their commitment and at the same time give young people good intelligence so they can make informed choices. Our Apprentice Charter will be trialled soon as we do our bit to improve quality.