Stephen Jeffery, CEO, London Learning Consortium

I always get excited about #NationalApprenticeshipWeek - it’s a great idea and really helps keep workplace training at the fore. So often the ugly sister to academia, Apprenticeships are essential for ensuring we have a skilled and competitive workforce for the UK’s future.

The sights and sounds of people learning at work and contributing to their chosen ‘trade’ and an employer are fantastic to witness.

At London Learning Consortium we have been at the forefront of work-based learning and Apprenticeships since our inception 15 years ago.

So, What Has Changed Over This Time?

There has been far more publicity and positivity around Apprenticeships much of which gained momentum long before the new raft of ‘employer’ levy reforms.

The change to a levy-based system has had such a radical impact on the market with all data showing that the reforms are creating less not more opportunities especially in relation to entry and lower skilled vocations.

Not all Apprentices work in glamour sectors such as STEM, engineering and the like. Many more hold tenuous low paid roles in highly pressurised social roles such as Health and Social Care where they juggle home life and childcare responsibilities with demanding jobs that are poorly paid.

Significant Decline in Apprenticeship Starts

Whilst the levy is a positive thing, the system that has been introduced is not at all liked by those that have to make it work. It may be improving and gaining some increased usage, but the facts don’t lie. Apprenticeship numbers have declined significantly.

There appears to be no clear data on how many Apprenticeship starts funded through the levy are actually new jobs created by employers that then require technical and / or vocational training. Common consensus seems to suggest that employers are using ‘their’ levy pots to upskill existing higher-level staff in areas such as Management and ICT.

This may be what is needed by the employer, but is it what is needed for the UK and its economy?

Should we not be using this huge amount of taxpayer’s money to only employ young people in new jobs in businesses?

Should we not use the levy pot to provide wage subsidies and training for the growing numbers of NEETs and other young people who in a post-Brexit world are likely to be desperately needed by all our Country’s employers regardless of their size or sector?

A Beast of Burden Rather Than a Portal To Opportunity?

The system, although trialled with employers and training providers, has ended up a beast of burden rather than a portal to opportunity. The result appears to be that we have a system fit for bureaucrats not employers, training providers or potential apprentices.

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It is a Government system to administer a tax redistribution and so perhaps we should just use it as such?  

Whilst employers who pay the levy argue for more and more flexibility (away from the new apprenticeship qualifications) there has been no new funding for SMEs and a protracted run down of contracts which naturally leads to a lowering of interest from employers and providers alike.

Millions of pounds of public money had been spent to promote apprenticeships over the last decade or more and within a very short period of time it could be argued that all of that effort and money has been allowed to dissipate and fade into history.

Concerning Decrease of Youth Services

For me the wider social context is very important and it is a real concern that as Youth Services and clubs have decreased along with the number of 16-18 Apprenticeship starts, more and more social issues come to the fore e.g. Knife crime, homelessness, insecure employment. – all traditionally symptoms of economic recession and rampant inflation, when in fact the UK has the exact opposite, the highest levels of employment in its history, low interest rates and inflation.

For those of us who remember the last century this picture is just not right! It is almost counter intuitive.

I strongly believe that Apprenticeships and a levy are essential for a competitive and skilled workforce.

My question is... ‘is what has been created fit for purpose and shaped to maximise and harness the skills and abilities of our young people whatever their ability or background?’

Stephen Jeffery, CEO, London Learning Consortium

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