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Apprenticeship reforms 'favour' large employers, say training providers

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Government reforms of apprenticeship schemes in England and Wales are biased in favour of large employers at the expense of SMEs, according to the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP).

The AELP claims the proposals put forward to improve apprenticeships could add complexity and cost. It welcomed the success of apprenticeship schemes but warned against introducing significant changes too quickly.

The call for reforms come as prime minister David Cameron is set to unveil a new generation of apprenticeships designed to drive down youth unemployment and make vocational training an attractive choice. More than 60 employers have signed up to deliver the new schemes.

AELP's concerns follow a consultation published by business secretary Vince Cable in July, in which he outlined various funding models designed to make it easier for employers to take on an apprentice.

These include: a direct model, where Government funding would be paid direct to employees; a pay-as-you-earn (PAYE) system, where funding would be reclaimed through tax contributions; and retaining the existing model, where providers are paid by the Government.

The consultation on the reform proposals will end this month and follows the Richard Review of apprenticeships published last November.

AELP, which claims its members train 75% of England's 749,000 apprentices, said the Government must ensure SMEs "have a voice" in the consultation process.

"Some of the changes such as the grading of apprenticeships could add complexity and cost without adding significant value, so we should ensure that the implications are properly considered," said AELP CEO Stewart Segal.

"The current methodologies of assessment and testing are rigorous and we have to allow employers to consider how best to improve that process rather than being prescriptive over the type of testing and the way that is delivered.

"We welcome the initiation of the debate with employers to ensure that we improve the current frameworks and make the delivery more effective and more flexible."