From education to employment

Stephen Gardner on Apprenticeship Improvement

The Government’s desire to expand the skills of the workforce to meet the challenges of globalization has made Apprenticeships more vital than ever. In the second of a two part series, FE News reporter Jessica Brammar spoke to Stephen Gardner, the Director of Apprenticeships at the Learning and Skills Council (LSC).

Area for Improvement

One major area that has been identified by the LSC for improvement is the rate of completion for the Apprenticeship program. In some sectors, he points out, the completion rates are higher than average, with “CITB [Construction Skills] reporting well over 50% achievement rates.” However, Gardner is quick to acknowledge that the situation “certainly can be improved.”

Why are so many people failing to complete the programme? “Not the smallest reason,” he explains, is the fact that they take 3 and a half years to complete, so for “young people starting out at 16, their lives change significantly in that time.”

Furthermore, many are tempted by higher wages to move on before their programme is complete. “There’s so much work available in the construction industry”, for example, that many young people move on from the Apprentice rate to a higher rate of pay before they have obtained their qualification. Gardner says that he recognizes the “need to make sure the Apprenticeship qualification is attractive”, in order to dissuade people from moving on too quickly.


The relationship between educational establishments, such as colleges, and employers is key to the success of the Apprenticeship programme. I ask Gardner whether he thinks more could be done to improve this. Whilst he emphasises that “there are some excellent examples where colleges really do take a work-based learning ethos,” he acknowledges that, in many cases, the role played by the college is inadequate. This, he says, is often based on a lack of understanding about the needs of the apprentices, which can require more specific and in depth training than is generally provided.

Furthermore, colleges, he says, “have to be responsive to the needs of employers.” The Apprenticeship programmes they are involved with have to be tailored to individual employers, not to the general needs of the college. There is also a fundamental need to employ skilled and experienced people to train apprentices, as work-based learning is essentially about “passing on high skills.”

Changing Attitudes

Finally, I wanted to ask Stephen Gardner whether he feels that attitudes towards work-based learning were changing. “Yes,” he says, “they are changing.” This is partly “because of the LSC’s work on employer engagement,” but also thanks to the support that has been shown for work-based learning from the highest echelons of the government. Speeches by the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Education have highlighted the issue, and created “an agenda for change.” This, Gardner says, is crucial in changing attitudes, and means that “many more colleges are seeing their mission needs to include a work-based learning element.”

Jessica Brammar

Read the first part of the interview by Jessica Brammar right here on FE News!

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