Schemes and scheming

SimonHaskel.jpgSimon Haskel on the consequences of the Coalition’s decision to downgrade apprenticeships

The government’s response to the Richard Review, published in October, encouraged employers to describe almost any training scheme or initiative as an apprenticeship. As a result, the precision and high standards demanded by employers and the National Apprenticeship Service have been officially abandoned in order that Ministers can now claim that half a million apprentices are being trained.  

Yet in 2012 there were only 106,510 places offered by the service. No wonder employers are confused and becoming rapidly disillusioned. This whole thing has become a numbers game with so called apprenticeships being shamelessly oversold by the government and its intermediaries. In most cases these ‘apprenticeships’ are certainly not part of a well considered, well resourced part of the wider framework for skills development.  

Giving evidence to a Commons Committee at the end of October, a CBI spokesman stated that a mapping exercise they had conducted identified 48 schemes that could help an employer take on or train a young unemployed person. What is even more confusing is that these schemes are funded through three different government departments. The DWP funds employment programmes, BIS post-18 skills training, and the DE education and training for 16-19 year olds.

Proper apprenticeships must combine a business need with a social need. A strong emphasis on assisting a business by developing skills, particular to that business, enables it grow, progress and innovate. Apprenticeships are not an easy short term option.  Nor a quick fix for getting unemployed young people off the register. Apprentices are required to learn a substantial amount and acquire skills way beyond ‘on-the-job-training’.  

There are good examples. Such as the many engineering firms who provide up to three years structured training, combined with practical and academic studies and exposure to new technologies. Cogent schemes to enable youngsters without a degree to enter science based industries. BBC London apprenticeships allow entry level young people to learn production.

The point is that it is the well thought out, well managed proper apprenticeship schemes that are of greatest benefit to the individual and the company and in helping Britain’s economy. Of course there are far too many young people out of work and other schemes help with this. But we should not mix the two. One is to achieve a skilled and innovative workforce, the other to reduce the number of workless young people.

Ministers must reconsider their response to the Richard Review. The current position condemns many to be stuck in low paid jobs and our country to a lower skilled workforce.

Lord Simon Haskel is a backbench Labour Peer

Published 28th November 2013

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