From education to employment

Apprenticeships with aptitude

It is congratulations, but with some caution, for National Apprenticeships Week. The increased priority being given to Apprenticeships at this current time is welcome and 157 Group colleges are playing key roles in sponsoring and supporting the significant growth of provision. This week, in particular, is an opportune time to raise the profile and attraction of Apprenticeships but we also need to ensure greater promotion of this high-quality qualification all year round. It is important also not to neglect other aspects of the vocational education which are just as worthwhile and relevant for learners.

The Apprenticeships brand has been criticised in recent months and we encourage highlighting the key benefits for learners and employers as demonstrated in our case studies in May 2011. Apprenticeships are good for business, the wider economy and social mobility but ensuring that everyone understands and appreciates this return on investment still requires improved promotion and awareness.

There are many high quality Apprenticeships delivered by well established colleges and training providers but there are also arenas where improvements are still needed. Growth in the number of 16 to 18 Apprenticeships is particularly welcomed, especially in the current climate but we would emphasise that provision for this age group cannot effectively be delivered in fewer than 12 months and if Apprenticeships are to contribute to the participation targets under the Raising of Participation Age (RPA) then they may need to be of a longer duration.

We encourage a stronger focus on the 19 to 24 year old age group who continue to struggle to find employment or training opportunities, alongside emphasis on longer programmes and achievement at level 3.  Consideration should be given to restricting Apprenticeships to under 25s so that providers prioritise this age group.

We would like to see more evidence of recruiting apprentices to ‘real jobs’ and a greater emphasis on SMEs and not just on large employers in attracting engagement with Apprenticeships. We note also the importance of Higher Apprenticeships whose figures and options need boosting if we are to have a diversified skills workforce. As a sector we are keen to ensure clearer pathways into HE for those who have been successful at level 3.

If there are to be extra payments to employers in this current difficult economic climate it is better made through a rebate on tax or National Insurance rather than a cash payment. There needs to be more clarity on what does and does not count as a 50% contribution/charge for 19 to 24 year old Apprenticeships as this is being interpreted differently by different providers. If loans are to be the only means of public support for level 3 apprenticeships for over 25s the loan should be to the employer, not the individual.

Although there is work to be done to promote the Apprenticeships brand we must remember the hard work of colleges and training providers in equipping learners effectively with the skills they need to progress and their work in engaging employers to take on apprentices as that is what Apprenticeships Week 2012 is all about.

Lynne Sedgmore is executive director of the 157 Group, which represents 27 of the most influential colleges in the FE sector

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