Plans to reform Apprenticeships to boost employer engagement, including the deployment of so-called trailblazer pilots, have prompted mixed reactions from leaders in the FE and skills sectors.
Whereas some welcome the further emphasis on employer-led initiatives, others warn the proposals are biased in favour of large companies at the expense of small and medium enterprises.
Below is a selection of comments from key figures in the industry:
Stewart Segal, CEO of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP):
"We support the drive to improve Apprenticeships in terms of quality and take up by employers. However these proposals need to be carefully thought through with the key decisions made by employers in partnership with the sector specialists such as providers, awarding bodies and other stakeholders.
"Some of the changes such as the grading of Apprenticeships could add complexity and cost without adding significant value, so we should ensure that the implications are properly considered. The current methodologies of assessment and testing are rigorous and we have to allow employers to consider how best to improve that process rather than being prescriptive over the type of testing and the way that is delivered. We welcome the initiation of the debate with employers to ensure that we improve the current frameworks and make the delivery more effective and more flexible."
Katja Hall, chief policy director for the Confederation of British Industry (CBI):
"Apprenticeships deliver a double benefit - to the economy and on youth unemployment. But to get the best out of them, business has to be in the driving seat. Today's announcement is a big step towards this.
"It's great that we are seeing real progress through the trailblazers. These firms demonstrate business' commitment to apprenticeships. The real test of the new system will be whether it is simple; works for firms of all sizes; and puts the funding in the hands of businesses."
David Hughes, chief executive of the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE):
"It is good to see, in this Implementation Plan, a recognition of the investment made in an Apprenticeship by the government, employers and Apprentices themselves, and of the substantial benefits that an Apprenticeship can deliver for all three. We think it's great news that employers are gaining more traction within the Apprenticeships system and will play a fundamental role in setting the standards for Apprenticeships. This is a big step forward but we believe that one more step is needed to ensure that Apprentices too have the opportunity to play a fundamental role in this partnership.
"The eight Trailblazers are a great opportunity to develop the Apprenticeship standards and high-level assessment approach for occupations within their sector. We will be looking to the Trailblazers to ensure that the learner voice is an integral part of these developments. NIACE has previously called for government, employers, learners and providers to work together to create a new Quality Guarantee for Apprenticeships. The establishment of the eight Trailblazers provides an ideal opportunity to take this forward and NIACE is keen to support them to do that.
"The practicalities of the future of Apprenticeships will depend upon the Government's approach to funding which will be announced later in the year. What NIACE wants is a long-term vision for the Apprenticeship programme which measures quality and impact based on the investments made by each partner – Apprentice, employer and Government - and the expected returns on those investments.
"We are pleased that this Implementation Plan supports our belief that Apprenticeships must be open to everyone, regardless of their age, who is starting a new job role or occupation. It is stage not age that matters most. Also vital is that we see more employers taking on Apprentices from a black or minority ethnic background, or who have a learning difficulty or disability.
"An Apprenticeship should be about acquiring the transferable skills that are needed, not simply for a job, but for a lasting and fulfilling career."
Chris Jones, CEO and Director-General of City & Guilds:
"With today's announcements, it's great to see Government putting apprenticeships into the hands of employers - building that link between education and employment is critical to sustainable economic growth.
"City & Guilds believes deeply in employer engagement in education, however it is concerning to see the lack of reference to Colleges, Training Providers and Awarding Organisations in the Implementation Plan. As we've found through our research into vocational pedagogy, educators play a critical role in helping individuals develop both technical and transferable skills.
"We can't let the balance tip too far in the other direction. Educators working hand-in-hand with employers to develop the new apprenticeship frameworks will be critical to their success. Educators must be involved in the Trailblazer pilots as well as employers; we urge Government to consider this as a requirement for the pilots, instead of as an optional extra, as this will create truly rigorous and responsive apprenticeships."
"We welcome that Government has selected industries for the 'trailblazers' which currently have lower take-up of apprenticeships as it will enable innovation without destabilising the whole system.
"It is also encouraging to see mention of learning technology as a key enabler to apprenticeships and we hope to see this theme expanded as the Trailblazers develop. Using technology in the right way will be transformative to the quality and accessibility of apprenticeships."
"Although we welcome the idea of simplicity, the question that remains is how one-page of paper will be translated into something that can actually be taught and assessed in a consistent and meaningful way by the hundreds of thousands of organisations involved in the system. As experts in assessment, quality assurance and learning technology, City & Guilds is looking forward to working with Government and the Trailblazer pilot groups, which include many of our employer customers, to ensure these reforms are successful in driving economic growth in an efficient and sustainable way."
Teresa Frith, senior skills policy manager at the Association of Colleges (AoC):
"There are many aspects of the current Apprenticeship system which work very well for employers and apprentices and it would be a shame to lose these for the sake of change.
"That said, AoC is pleased Government has recognised the need to trial the Richard approach. It gives us a unique opportunity to establish strong partnerships between employers and providers, in the development of the new employer standards right through to graded assessment.
"AoC is keen to see that colleges are involved in the process of making new-style Apprenticeships to ensure they are the best they can be for both employers and apprentices. It is important to develop an approach to Apprenticeships which meets the needs of all types of employers but this brings its own set of challenges. AoC would particularly like to see more involvement with small businesses."
Lynne Sedgmore, executive director of the 157 Group:
"We have always said that it is right to involve employers much more closely in the design and development of apprenticeship frameworks. We also believe that the concept of 'mastery' in a trade, craft or profession is an appropriate place to start if you are assessing the success of an apprentice. The overarching principles of today's plan are, therefore, very positive.
"Much will depend upon how the Trailblazers work. They are being asked to do a lot in a short space of time, and we are concerned that colleges and training providers appear to be included as something of an afterthought. Colleges want, and are ready, to be involved in supporting employers to do what has been asked of them and, as they are the organisations that will have to deliver the critical off-the-job training elements of new standards, we believe it is right for the development of these standards to be a joint enterprise.
"While we acknowledge the need for new standards to reflect the needs of the modern workplace, we are keen to ensure that they build on where there is already good work being done. In particular, we must ensure that synoptic assessment remains practically focused, and colleges are in a strong position to advise on how this might be done."