Embargo: 00:01 Friday 20 July 2007

Contact: Owen Williams 020 7219 8659


The House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee have today strongly criticised the training and career development provision for low skilled young people and called on the Government to take immediate steps to reinvigorate the apprenticeship system in their report Apprenticeship: a key route to skill.

The report identifies apprenticeships as the best route to skills for young people not initially intending to pursue university education. The Committee point out that young people who complete an apprenticeship that includes an NVQ 2 qualification or an advanced apprenticeship with an NVQ 3 earn significantly more than those achieving the same qualifications outside of apprenticeships. The Committee argue that in most European countries apprenticeship is the main route to skills for up to half of all young people, and that comparable opportunities are desperately needed here, both for the benefit of the young people themselves and for the long term wellbeing of the UK economy. The Committee note that successive governments have failed to tackle the problem effectively, with numerous announcements and policy initiatives not followed up with delivery.

Limited access to apprenticeships is identified by the Committee as a key weakness in the UK's training regime. Anecdotal evidence from organisations such as British Telecom, who had 15,000 applications for 80 apprenticeship places, suggested that young people value apprenticeships and that many who would like to take up apprentice positions are unable to due to a shortage of places. This compares unfavourably with the situation in Germany where around 50% of each age cohort undertakes an apprenticeship. Germany is also more successful in keeping people in apprenticeship, with 75% of their apprentices completing their courses compared with just 53% in the UK.‚

The problem is compounded by the fact that many young people in the UK leave school without even the basic levels of numeracy and literacy needed to undertake an apprenticeship and so fail to benefit from any places that are available.

The Committee are extremely critical of information and career guidance provided by schools and the Government to young people considering apprenticeships. They argue that many schools are failing to inform young people about the benefits of apprenticeships through a combination of ignorance and indifference to non-academic education; they are also often reluctant to involve themselves with training providers offering apprenticeships.

The report includes some strong criticisms of Connexions, the network of career guidance providers financed through public funds. The Committee argue that Connexions is failing to reach those who need its services and since Ofsted's power to inspect Connexions was removed in 2005 there has been no proper oversight of the services it offers. The Committee also criticise the DfES and the Learning and Skills Council for failing to keep figures for the number of school leavers seeking an apprenticeship placement and the number unable to find a placement. The Committee recommend that by the age of 14 all students should be made aware of the potential opportunities offered by apprenticeship and of the work needed to qualify for a guaranteed offer of a place. They argue that this would also encourage students not intending to pursue an academic education to continue working hard in the last years of school.

The Committee make a specific recommendation that the Government should look to immediately establish a â‚ËœUCAS' style clearing system for school leavers wanting to pursue an apprenticeship.

The report argues that employers' potential to reinvigorate apprenticeships is often overlooked by government. The Committee claim that in the UK apprentice system the employer is too often the passive partner who takes on apprentices put forward by a training provider but with no requirement for them to assume responsibility for training the apprentice or for the outcome of the apprenticeship. They argue that within five years all funding for apprenticeships - currently around ‚£3,250 annually per apprentice - should be paid directly to employers, not through training providers. This would provide an incentive to employers to provide more apprentice places and also encourage them to be more actively involved in devising innovative and effective apprenticeship schemes.

A final criticism made by the Committee of the present arrangements is that no one government agency has ownership of the apprenticeship system. They point out that apprenticeship has an unfortunate history of having initiatives announced and then not followed up. The failure to establish a clearing system, despite it having been announced in 2004, is just one example. The Committee argue that to rectify the situation and to put apprenticeships at the centre of education policy, an apprenticeship unit should be established, reporting directly to a Cabinet Minister. This unit would co-ordinate the activities of the various bodies involved in providing apprenticeships and ensure that all worked together with the urgency needed to improve the present unacceptable situation.

Commenting Lord Wakeham, Chairman of the Lords Economic Affairs Committee, said:

In Britain there is very little focus on providing effective and stimulating education for school leavers not intending to go on to university. Vocational training has always been undervalued but it is now more vital than ever that we get this right in what is an increasingly competitive world economy.

Apprenticeships offer the best solution to ensuring we have a highly skilled and appropriately trained workforce. Unfortunately, successive governments have failed to put apprenticeships where they belong, at the forefront of vocational education.

The Government must now take concrete steps to tackle the longstanding problems hindering the development of apprenticeship. We wait to see what priority the new Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills gives to apprenticeship. But a start should in any case be made by establishing a powerful Apprenticeship Unit. This would be responsible for co-ordinating the activities of the various bodies involved in apprenticeships, and should report directly to a Cabinet Minister. Steps should also be taken to establish a “UCAS' style clearing system for school leavers wishing to pursue an apprenticeship.

There must also be a renewed focus on apprenticeships in schools; by the age of 14 all students should be made aware of apprenticeships, the minimum educational standards needed to qualify, and their potential benefits. This is clearly not the case at the moment and we feel Connexions have up to now, not been active enough in explaining apprenticeships to young people.

Notes to Editors

1. The report, Apprenticeship: a key route to skill, is published by The Stationery Office, House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee, 5th Report of 2006/7, HL Number 138.

2. The full report will be available shortly after publication at:

3. The members of the Committee who conducted the inquiry were:

Lord Wakeham (Chairman)

Lord Kingsdown

Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach

Lord Lamont of Lerwick

Lord Lawson of Blaby

Lord Layard

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston

Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay

Lord Paul

Lord Sheldon

Lord Skidelsky

Lord Turner of Ecchinswell

Lord Valance of Tummel

For copies of the report or to request an interview with Lord Wakeham, please contact Owen Williams (Press Officer) on 020 7219 8659.