Focus must be given to the quality of apprenticeships as well as quantity, according to Kathleen Henehan, research and policy analyst at the Resolution Foundation.
Speaking at an event in London, Henehan said that the success of the apprenticeship levy hinges on whether enough high-level apprenticeships are offered.
“We know apprenticeship quality is currently the elephant in the room,” she said. “As firms are under pressure to reach that three million new apprenticeships target we could see a massive influx into Level 2 standards, and that is something we will need to monitor.”
Intermediate-level apprenticeships are equivalent to an NVQ Level 2, while those working at a higher level could work towards NVQ Levels 3 or 4. The Resolution Foundation’s Up to the job? report, authored by Henehan, reports that the three million target, in combination with the levy, does not mandate around apprenticeship levels. But average wages associated with Level 3-plus apprenticeships are higher than at Level 2 so should be prioritised.
Henehan also highlighted the need for clarity when it comes to developing standards, as too many overlapping standards will confuse employers and prospective apprentices. Currently there are 161 approved standards, and a further 223 in development.
“The time is now to make tough choices about clarity and quality,” said Henehan.
Speaking at the same event, David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said that the levy has helped shift the perception of apprenticeships. “The levy is a great thing,” he said. “It has raised the profile of apprenticeships, and got people talking about them. Employers have never taken this sort of programme so seriously before.”
However, he added that there are challenges to overcome before it can be truly effective. “The risk [taken by the government] is enormous,” he said. “It’s a change programme that has thrown everything in the air and attempted to change it all at once. Many problems we have encountered have been due to the speed of these changes.
“To get this right we need to listen to the views of young people and adults,” he said.