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Apprenticeship quality, by Simon Waugh

I passionately believe that the key to irreversible growth in Apprenticeships is quality. The National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) is determined to address any quality issues and reform and remove any poor training. For a strong and growing economy, this country must possess a high level of skills to not only meet employer demand, but to ensure we are suitably equipped to provide the skilled workers that we need for the future.

The demand for apprentices is increasing year on year with many firms now also reaping the benefits of Apprenticeships, providing thousands of new opportunities to young people and adults.

The economy has seen a radical change in the nature of employment, with many more service sector jobs, and this has been reflected in Apprenticeship opportunities.

Apprenticeships have grown fastest in the service sector rather than traditional areas such as construction and engineering.  The range of occupations today is wide-ranging and diverse.  Apprenticeships have developed to match this.  Some of the fastest growing areas have been in IT, accountancy, childcare, health and retail.

The length of an Apprenticeship broadly correlates with age, so that the younger you are and less work experience you have, the more time it takes to achieve an Apprenticeship framework.  In the last full year of information, 16-18 year olds took on average 15 months to complete their Apprenticeships.  For 19-24 year olds this was just over 13 months and for 25+ adults one year.

Apprenticeship training for 25+ employees is shorter because of their ‘prior learning’ which is assessed before the training begins.  In most cases additional training takes place to bridge the gap to an Apprenticeship framework including addressing literacy and numeracy needs. However where training is shorter it should be paid at a suitably discounted rate and the Skills Funding Agency is ensuring that this is the case.

In the NAS, we are not only committed to increasing the number and range of Apprenticeships on offer, but to ensuring the quality and integrity is also maintained. No substandard provision will be tolerated and we are focused on rooting this out.

Following the introduction of the Specification for Apprenticeships Standards in England (SASE) we, with the support of the Skills Funding Agency, are already reviewing every short Apprenticeship programme. The review will closely consider the circumstances of each short Apprenticeship programme with the college or training provider so that we fully understand the delivery model and can make a judgement on whether the provision meets the comprehensive standards established for Apprenticeships.

Through this review we will determine that some provision, while not meeting these standards, still provides appropriate and valuable training for young people who would otherwise not be in education, training or employment. We will work with the providers and employers of such provision, to ensure that it is branded and funded appropriately and is only an Apprenticeship when it meets its approved standards

Throughout the review, our priority will be to remove Apprenticeship funding from provision which fails to meet the required standard, while maintaining provision that supports young people into employment or other training, as well as giving them the opportunity to progress on to a Higher Apprenticeship programme.

The Future

I am committed to developing progression routes for apprentices, so that Advanced Level Apprenticeship paths become the goal to which apprentices and employers aspire to. We will work closely with partners to ensure this becomes a reality for all the individuals and employers we serve.

I am confident that plans for the introduction of increasing Higher Apprenticeships (up to degree level), will pave the way for leading technical skills that are crucial for job creation and growth in fast moving industries such as IT, engineering and manufacturing.

This new pathway of Apprenticeship levels will help employers to attract and develop the very best candidates to support improved productivity and performance, as well as enhancing career opportunities for individuals. With many able young people looking more carefully at new options after A levels, we need to ensure Apprenticeships represent a suitable and rewarding route for them to take.

We will also continue to promote what we expect to see offered through an Apprenticeship; they should offer so much more than just the acquisition of specific qualifications, in particular the opportunity for young people to practise and learn alongside experienced workers transferring skills from one generation to the next.

As Apprenticeship opportunities increase and choices for individuals expand, we will continue to champion the benefits to those employers, who have not yet engaged, through dedicated support across all sectors. The quality of Apprenticeships depends greatly on the commitment of employers, young people and their trainers to mould the workforce and create our chief executives of the future.  Judging from the people I meet, our apprentices are in very good hands.

For further information on NAS and Apprenticeships visit us at apprenticeships.org.uk.

Simon Waugh is chairman of the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS)

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