OCR, the awarding body, was recently asked to appear as a witness to the Education Select Committee's inquiry into the support, regulation and management of traineeship and apprenticeship pathways in the UK. Charlotte Bosworth, Director of Skills and Employment at OCR, shares their response.
The subject of apprenticeships and traineeships has remained highly visible throughout 2014 as the political parties firm up policies ahead of next year's general election. It is clear from the raft of pledges, initiatives and targets that have hit the headlines that apprenticeships and vocational training remains a hot political topic, as we strive to tackle youth unemployment and provide the next generation of skilled workers for the workplace.
David Cameron has said a future Conservative Government would fund 3 million apprentice places in an effort to tackle youth unemployment. Ed Miliband stated that he wanted to see the same number of school leavers take an apprenticeship route as those choosing university education. While the Liberal Democrats shared plans to boost pay for thousands of apprentices via a single national minimum wage.
When studying the detail there has to date been precious little to differentiate the political parties over education policy, with each one in its own way articulating broadly similar views on apprenticeships, higher quality 16-18 education and a greater focus on higher-level skills. How this pans out as we move towards next May's election will be interesting, especially with an urgent need to provide more detail on how the various pledges will be put into action.
It is fair to say that OCR's commitment to vocational training and the value it delivers for young learners and employers is steadfast – especially when all decisions are made to benefit the young person. Our traineeship programme launched in 2013 is aptly demonstrating what can be achieved through a learner-centred approach. A prime example has been the Cambridge Traineeship pilot scheme developed in conjunction with the Kent Association of Training Organisations. It was designed to test the concept that such schemes only produce measurable results if the needs of the individual are addressed. I am delighted to see that many of the people who took part in the programme have subsequently gone on to be employed by their placements, secure full-time work elsewhere, or are taking up further education opportunities.
It is examples like this that informed our response to the Government's Select Committee as it was based upon actual experience of what works and does not. Fundamentally, we feel it is essential that the range of qualifications is flexible, fit for purpose and stimulating for learners, whilst also taking into account the importance of new technologies and developments which are relevant for today's workplace.
We shared our insight with the committee and summarised our proposals in five key areas in what could be termed OCR's 'Agenda for Change'. We want to make traineeship and apprenticeship initiatives relevant and attractive to learners and employers, as well as making them success-based for all stakeholders and cost effective for the public purse. Our recommendations, which have been developed and tested at the sharp end, and articulated face-to-face when we met the committee, can be broadly summarised as follows:
1. OCR believes that the Government should seek to make traineeships more flexible through the creation of bite-sized units, whilst also providing funding according to progression.
2. Traineeships should be actively promoted within schools as a 'stepping stone' into employment, further education or apprenticeships.
3. Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) should be a key player in the development of strategies for traineeships within local areas through the development of a 'Skills and Employment Board'.
4. Clear, high-quality and concise information needs to be made easily available to young people so that they can access and better understand the options before them as they consider future career or learning pathways.
5. Incentivising employers should be considered to ensure the number of traineeships on offer increases and that organisations – both large and small - see the benefit of supporting and participating in programmes.
Whatever happens on May 7th next year, it is vital that the right approach to traineeships is developed by Government and that it is sustainable and has the interests of both the learner and the employer at its heart. We await with interest the findings of the Select committee in the short-term, as well as the detailed plans of the political parties as the countdown to the election begins in earnest.
We hope that the insight and recommendations we contributed, as well as our passionate belief in the value of appropriate vocational training, will assist those having to make important strategic decisions that will shape the success of traineeship and apprenticeship outcomes in this country for years to come.
Charlotte Bosworth is director for skills and employment at OCR, the awarding body