Urgent reform needed for apprenticeships programme to succeed

06 November 2012

The Business, Innovation and Skills Committee has today published a report highlighting areas of the Government's Apprenticeships programme that need reform.

The publication of the report - Apprenticeships - is the culmination of an 11 month inquiry that involved visits to Sheffield and Northampton to hear directly from people involved in apprenticeship schemes as well as the more traditional Westminster-based evidence sessions.

Commenting on the publication of the report, the Chairman of the BIS Committee, Adrian Bailey MP, said:

"The apprenticeship programme can play a key role in resolving some of this county’s most pressing issues. It can help us to create a more skilled workforce, to increase employment and to generate sustainable economic growth.

For these reasons, the Government has, quite rightly, made apprenticeships a priority and has devoted significant resources to help them thrive.

But money does not guarantee success. The apprenticeship programme needs clarity, oversight and, in these straightened times, to demonstrate that it is providing value for money.

There are many areas that require closer scrutiny, careful monitoring or even complete reform. 

This wide-ranging, evidence-based report carefully lays out the areas where we feel the current model could better serve apprentices, their employers, or, in many cases, both.

 Young people in this country should be given every chance to fulfil their potential in school, in work and in life.

An apprenticeships programme that is fit for purpose will help them do this." 

The conclusions and recommendations contained in the report include:

On Government Policy

  • We recommend that the Government defines an overarching strategy and clear purpose for the apprenticeship programme. Only then can the public and Parliament effectively monitor progress against the outcomes the scheme is intended to achieve. (Paragraph 26)
  • We recommend that the Department formulates a formal definition of an ‘apprenticeship’. Any definition should state clearly that apprenticeships are for developing skills not simply for the validation or consolidation of existing skills. (Paragraph 33)

"Without clarity, there is only confusion. Confusion as to what the Government is trying to achieve, what apprentices should be focussing on and what employers should be offering.

An apprenticeship programme without a clear strategy and purpose will not achieve its goals. But it will be open to abuse.  

This needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency."


  • The National Apprenticeship Service has accepted that its priority in the past has been increasing the number of apprentices and the number of employers taking on apprentices. We recommend an urgent review of the objectives and priorities of NAS with a view to justify a focus on achieving quality outcomes in both the objectives and culture of NAS. (Paragraph 27)

"Quality, not quantity should be the over-riding measure of success for apprenticeships.  

It may be more difficult to measure, but this should not be a barrier to trying. 

An increase in numbers will always be welcome. A guarantee of quality will always be vital."

On delivery and funding

  • The sheer number of organisations involved works against the efficient allocation of funds. We therefore recommend that the Department provides a simpler and more efficient delivery system. (Paragraph 41)
  • We recommend that the Department provides a detailed assessment of the impact that the funding structure has had on the take up of apprenticeships by age group. (Paragraph 52)

"Apprenticeships are not just for the young. The current funding structure does not reflect this. 

It is disturbing that the Minister has no idea of the impact his department’s funding decisions may be having on older applicants."

On preparing for apprenticeships

  • Given the widely held view that NAS should have more involvement with learners through schools, we were disappointed by the Chief Executive’s apparent lack of enthusiasm, citing the Education Act 2011 and telling us that NAS was not statutorily responsible. We recommend that NAS is given statutory responsibility for raising awareness of apprenticeships for students within schools. (Paragraph 74)
  • We recommend that alongside the number of university places gained in an academic year, schools should also be required to publish the number of apprenticeship starts. (Paragraph 68)
  • Success will be measured when schools and colleges place vocational and academic progression on an equal standing in terms of the both the level and quality of resources. (Paragraph 69)

"Apprenticeships are a viable and attractive route to a career and should be seen as equal to the university route.  

It is the responsibility of the Government, our schools and the National Apprenticeship Service to make sure they are presented in this way at an early stage in the curriculum. 

Our workforce must be encouraged to be as skilled as possible. Progression through the apprenticeship programme is key to achieving this." 

On Value for Money

  • We recommend that the National Apprenticeship Service, as a priority, produces a robust methodology for valuing employers’ in-kind contributions in the future. (Paragraph 200)
  • We further recommend both that employers be required to publish an annual statement of their contribution to the training provider, and that training providers be obliged to report a statement of contributions and costs to the SFA. (Paragraph 201)
  • We recommend that the Government takes a more active approach in the future and constantly reviews the profit levels of training providers as an indicator of potential risks to efficiency. (Paragraph 209)

"This is a time of austerity for Government, individuals, for families and for businesses. But it is important that we continue to invest in skills.

We heard evidence of excessive profits at the public’s expense, of a Government paying out too much money far too easily and of a lack of genuine value for money being provided by apprenticeship schemes. This is unacceptable." 

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