Britain is going through significant change and disruption. Industries are rapidly changing, automatisation is becoming increasingly common and it’s difficult to predict what Brexit will do to jobs and the UK economy. At the same time, we suffer from profound skills shortages in key industries and lagging productivity levels. A highly skilled and adaptable workforce with technical capacity can be a solution to those challenges as it ensures that the demand for skills is met. However, our current system can be greatly improved.
In our "Making Apprenticeships Work for All" publication, we focus on the areas that need to change to ensure that the UK has a skilled workforce that can compete on the global stage. We see these areas as being vital to the success of apprenticeships and the long-term success of the UK economy.
Cultural issues and stigmas
The first area of focus is around cultural issues and the stigmatisation that surrounds apprenticeships. A 2017 student survey found that 68% of respondents believed that there was a stigma attached to apprenticeship. This is one of the reasons why only a small proportion of school leavers enter apprenticeships with only 30% taking the vocational route.
Apprenticeships should be an option available to everyone, but we are let down by a careers and guidance system that does not inform learners of the apprenticeship. To encourage more people to undertake apprenticeships, we need a compelling story to tell about how apprenticeships can improve careers and life prospects.
Secondly, we suggest some adjustments to the apprenticeship system to make it work better for employers and the wider economy. In the first year of the levy, employers used a mere 8% of the £1.39 billion they paid into the pot, which reflects on some structural issues of the system. We think that there needs to be more flexibility in the way employers can use the levy.
Finally, we looked at how to embed quality in the system and ensure that we focus on outcomes, not inputs. We also advocate for the adoption of a regulatory framework to ensure quality at all levels and promoting good behaviour among providers. In order to change the perception of apprenticeships, we need to sell a reliable quality product.
In this paper, we have set out some of the key areas that we think need further reform. There are many more areas that we could have touched on, but we feel that the issues presented here are the most pressing.
We need to work together, collaborate and press for the small changes that would make so much difference in the apprenticeship system. Apprenticeships will play a crucial role in delivering a credible and respected system of technical education, and Collab Group colleges want to help lead the transformation.
Ian Pretty, CEO, Collab Group