Education Committee calls for action to improve quality of apprenticeships

Quality of training is poor and disadvantaged people are missing out on opportunities, report finds

Apprentices are not getting high-quality training from apprenticeship schemes and many people, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, are not getting adequate support to pursue an apprenticeship, according to a new report from the Education Committee.

The report, The apprenticeships ladder of opportunity: quality not quantity, published today, focuses on the challenges of improving apprenticeship quality and promoting social justice.

It found that while many further education (FE) colleges and independent training providers are doing good work in this area, many apprentices are being let down by poor-quality training and support.

The Committee set out a number of recommendations to improve quality and support and clamp down on poor-quality schemes. It recommends Ofsted is given an expanded role in inspecting schemes and for a cap to be placed on the amount of training new providers can offer until they prove the quality of their provision.

It also calls for greater efforts to recruit apprentices from disadvantaged backgrounds and help them climb the ‘ladder of opportunity’. This, the report outlines, could be achieved through a range of measures including more bursaries, increases to the apprenticeship minimum wage, and incentivising small- and medium-sized businesses and social enterprises to take on apprentices.

Other recommendations include the government introducing a kitemark system for good apprentice employers to encourage best practice; greater sanctions for employers that fail to pay the apprentice minimum wage; the Social Mobility Commission conducting a study into how the benefits system affects apprentices; and the introduction of a UCAS-style portal for technical education, skills, FE and apprenticeships.

Robert Halfon, chair of the Education Committee, said that while some FE colleges and independent training providers “are doing incredible work with apprentices… there is not enough high-quality apprenticeship training, which is letting down both the apprentices and employers”.

“Apprenticeships can offer an extraordinary ladder of opportunity for young people to get the skills, training and jobs they need to ensure security and prosperity for their future.

"There has been an explosion in the number of training providers in recent years but neither employers nor apprentices can have genuine confidence that quality training is being provided by these new entrants. It’s time for a cap on the amount of training that new providers can offer until they prove they are up to scratch. It’s time to get tough on sub-contractors, who too often seem to be delivering training that doesn’t deliver for the apprentice or the taxpayer, and lead providers who cream off large management fees while providing nothing of value themselves. Apprentice funding needs reform to ensure the system is working with and not against employers; such as in increasing the top funding band to better match the full cost of delivery for some apprenticeships."

He called on the use of apprentices to help achieve social justice.

"Apprenticeships can play a crucial role in achieving social justice. But those from disadvantaged backgrounds still find too many barriers to undertaking an apprenticeship. Travel costs should be cut for young apprentices. We need to move towards abolishing the apprentice minimum wage, introduce more bursaries, and a new social justice fund is necessary to support enterprises, charities and others that help the hardest to reach. Much more help needs to be given to apprentices to progress to higher and degree apprenticeships and both the government and the IfA [Institute for Apprenticeships] should make degree apprenticeships a strategic priority,” Halfon said.

"Only by boosting the quality of apprenticeships, and breaking down barriers to entry, can we ensure that apprenticeships genuinely offer a ladder of opportunity for the disadvantaged and the chance for all to get the skills to get on in life."

Commenting on the report, Penny Cobham, director general of The 5% Club (an organisation that encourages employers to offer apprenticeships), said she endorsed the recommendations made by the Committee.

“Quality in training is of paramount importance to our employer members. Businesses of all sizes need to have the confidence that providers will deliver the highest quality of apprenticeship training, at a consistent and uniform standard across the UK. At present this isn’t the case. Not being able to rely on training provision undermines the value of apprenticeships to both employers and recruits,” she said.

“We also agree that the apprenticeship system must be refined to address social mobility. Central to this is a drive towards greater awareness regarding the value and availability of apprenticeships, particularly for people from disadvantaged backgrounds. At present businesses are missing out on some of the brightest and best talent, resulting in skills gaps within individual companies but also stifling the country’s economic growth.”

Cobham also encouraged business leaders to take more action around their apprenticeship schemes.

“In addition to the recommendations made today we would also like to call on business leaders to play their own part in opening up apprenticeship schemes. For example, this can be achieved by working with schools and colleges in deprived areas, providing work experience for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, and examining recruitment processes to understand where talented applicants from different backgrounds fall through the cracks,” she said.

The Education Committee report came out of a government inquiry launched earlier this year to review the quality of apprenticeships.