Apprenticeships will have to last for a minimum of 12 months guaranteeing improvements in training and workplace learning, according to rules outlined by skills minister John Hayes (pictured).
The standards will come into force for all age groups from August 2012, subject to consultation with providers and employers, as a further measure to drive up quality.
For those aged 19 and over apprenticeships will last between one to four years unless prior learning or attainment has been recorded. Apprenticeships for 16-18 year olds will last a minimum of 12 months without exception.
Hayes said: "The momentum we have created by building the apprenticeship brand has brought about unprecedented success for the apprenticeship programme.
"The majority of apprenticeships are the gold standard in vocational training. They boost individuals' life chances and build the skills that drive growth.
"They also provide a great return on public money. This has been independently recognised with the National Audit Office finding that apprenticeships generating £18 for the economy for every £1 spent.
"But we must be relentless in our drive to ensure all apprenticeships are as good as the best, to identify and root out any instances of poor quality provision, and to raise the bar on standards.
"We are taking strong and decisive action to tackle short duration so all apprentices receive high quality training and workplace learning setting them on the road to a long, rewarding career."
David Way, chief executive of the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS), added: "I am pleased we have taken time to get the best possible way forward on apprenticeship duration so that we can ensure confidence in all apprenticeships. We listened very carefully to messages from colleges and training providers at the National Quality Conference last week.
"A clear expectation has been set that an apprenticeship involves a significant amount of new learning delivered over sufficient time to practice and master skills in employment. There is greater flexibility here than for younger apprentices because older apprentices typically have more skills they have acquired.
"We need to ensure that all apprenticeships are high quality. By ensuring they last between one and four years, we are not only giving employers what they say they want but also giving confidence back to everyone who has questioned the growth in shorter apprenticeships."
This announcement builds upon a series of reforms announced in recent months to drive up quality and standards and ensure every apprenticeship meets the rigorous standards apprentices and employers expect.
National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) and the Skills Funding Agency's comprehensive review of all short duration programmes has already resulted in significant improvements to many apprenticeships and the withdrawal of inadequate sub-contracted provision.
New safeguards are being put in place to strengthen monitoring, reporting and subcontracting arrangements, including requiring subcontractors to be regulated through the Register of Training Organisations in the same way as prime contractors
New contracts will ensure that training providers not only act according to regulations, but also within the spirit of the apprenticeship programme
A new 'enquiry panel' has been established, reporting directly to Hayes, to manage poor quality providers as soon as they are reported.
And a new grant to encourage small and medium sized businesses to take on apprentices will be made available. The NAS is offering up to 40,000 apprenticeship grants to small and medium sized businesses (employing less than 250 employees), to the value of £1,500, that recruit their first apprentice aged 16 to 24 years old.
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