Pete Ward, Deputy, Deputy CEO & Ops Director, Leadership Through Sport & Business

As the government concedes it has broken its promise to hit three million apprenticeships starts by 2020*, youth employment charity Leadership Through Sport & Business claimed last night that apprenticeships in the UK are being completely undermined.

Speaking after Education Secretary Damian Hinds admitted targets would not be met, the social mobility charity Deputy CEO, Pete Ward, said changes to the eligibility of the schemes have left young people suffering as a result:

This government’s apprenticeship policy shows yet again that political decisions have practical consequences that should have been considered in the first place. 

The House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee reported that the target of three million apprenticeship starts was driven by the requirement to sound impressive in a manifesto:

A policy founded on what sounds good, rather than what works best, fundamentally fails to put the interests of young people at heart.

For young people have suffered as a result of these policies. Put aside that arbitrary figure, or the meaninglessness of apprenticeship ‘starts’ rather completions. There’s a greater failure here.

The Apprenticeship brand has been undermined

The brand of apprenticeships - in the popular conception, a young person learning a trade - has been completely undermined. When the Apprenticeship Levy came in, the upper age limit on eligibility was removed.

Instead of investing in youth, firms invested in existing staff. An ‘apprenticeship’ is now just the name for practically any qualification - as shown by the explosion in MBA courses, nominally rebranded Level 7 Apprenticeships.

A 'Master’s-level apprenticeship' is a self-evident oxymoron, and emblematic: a policy ostensibly for young people who aren’t going to university has resulted in older workers getting higher education.

Levy confusion

This was not only predictable, but predicted, and now proven. Instead of being a catalyst for youth employment and a genuine engine of social mobility, the levy has been confusing for employers.

It’s been a boon for private training providers, and difficult for local colleges at the front-line of youth vocational training. It’s potentially disastrous for young people who can’t wait for the right opportunity. 

The legacy of all this is underemployment: young people taking any job, rather than positions equal to their ambition and ability; putting aside their aspirations and resigning themselves to what they can get. 

And that doesn’t sound good at all.

Pete Ward, Deputy, Deputy CEO & Ops Director, Leadership Through Sport & Business

*The target was initially set by the Conservatives in their 2015 election manifesto and also included in the party's 2017 manifesto.

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