Poor quality apprenticeship provision undermines the status of apprenticeship and devalues the brand, according to a survey released by Ofsted on 22 October.

In his 2013/14 Annual Report for further education and skills, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw raised concerns about the apprenticeships on offer in this country. He was particularly critical of the low number of apprentices aged 16 to 24, the limited new skills developed by many apprentices and the mismatch between identified skills shortages and the apprenticeships on offer.

Sir Michael commissioned this survey to look at how well apprenticeships meet the needs of young people, their employers and the economy.

“Apprenticeships have, over time, provided employees with the training and hands-on experience required to succeed in highly regarded, skilled occupations. Traditionally, these have been in crafts such as masonry and carpentry and, more recently, in the engineering and technology industries,” Sir Michael said.

“Since 2010, an increase in government funding has seen more than two million apprenticeships taken up. However, this surge in numbers has been mainly in sectors such as customer service, retail, administration and care. Unfortunately, these apprenticeships have not sufficiently matched the skills needed by our nation.”

In the report he explained that this weak provision undermines the value of apprenticeships, especially in the service sectors and for learners aged 25 and over.

The findings reaffirm many of the concerns set out in the Chief Inspector’s Annual Report 2013/14 and make it clear that too many apprentices still do not receive sufficiently high-quality training.

The survey is based on evidence collected from visits to 22 providers, including colleges and independent learning providers, catering for 19,000 apprentices.

Inspectors found that in a third of the 45 providers visited, apprenticeships did not provide sufficient, high-quality training that stretched the apprentices and improved their capabilities.

The weaker provision was characterised by a lack of collaboration between providers and employers to plan apprenticeships that gave apprentices the skills they needed, the report said. Apprentices’ English and Mathematics skills were often poorly developed.

“As well as stifling the career opportunities of these apprentices, this low-quality provision undermines the status of apprenticeships and devalues the brand,” Sir Michael added. “Employers and providers involved in poor quality, low-level apprenticeships are wasting public funds and abusing the trust placed in them by government and the apprentices.”

High-quality apprenticeships were typically found in industries that have a long-established reliance on employing apprentices to develop their future workforce, such as the motor vehicle, construction and engineering industries.

“The government’s ambition to boost the number of apprenticeships is commendable and has the potential to raise the profile and position apprenticeships as a direct route to greater business productivity,” said Sir Michael. “However, the recent growth in numbers has not focused enough on the priorities that benefit employers or the economy. This is particularly the case for small and medium enterprises (SMEs), which comment about the burden and lack of support from weaker providers in arranging and administering training.”

The report makes a number of recommendations to government and educational establishments to try and address the issues highlighted by the report.

Among these were that the government should:

  • Build on the reforms already underway and ensure that planned growth in apprenticeships substantially enhance apprentices’ skills and prospects for long-term employment through good-quality training
  • Focus on the industries that have the strongest demand for a skilled workforce and contribute to economic growth
  • Enable SMEs to be involved fully in planning and delivering apprenticeships, while ensuring that they get effective support and are not burdened by additional bureaucracy
  • Hold providers to account for the value their apprenticeships add to their apprentices’ careers, evidenced by progression to higher-level training, increased responsibility at work and improvements in earnings.

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