If it ain’t broke: apprentices express misgivings over training

Jason Ford - News Editor, The EngineerJason Ford, news editor

A survey published today highlights how the government could undermine its own efforts to increase the number of people embarking on an apprenticeship.

The Industry Apprentice Council, which works on behalf of apprentices in the advanced manufacturing and engineering (AME) sector, canvassed 1,200 young apprentices on their experiences to date and the ways in which their training could be improved.

The survey’s standout statistic shows that 98 per cent of apprentices are happy that they chose to follow a more hands-on route into their chosen career and reasons for this include good rates of pay and no student debt, fulfilling work, qualifications and career progression.

The government wants to create three million apprentices, and statistics indicate that employers are edging closer to that figure, with 9,500 more apprentices in 2015/16 than in the previous year (499,900). According to a Commons Briefing paper, people aged 25 and over accounted for 44 per cent (224,100) of apprenticeship starts in 2015/16. People aged 19-24 accounted for 30 per cent (153,860) and under 19s 26 per cent (131,420). The majority of these starts were in the service sectors. In total, there were 904,800 people on an apprenticeship in 2015/16, up from 871,000 the year before.

Further efforts to encourage meaningful apprenticeships were brought in earlier this year in the form of the Apprenticeship Levy, which is applicable to companies with a wage bill of over £3m. The levy – set at 0.5 per cent of the value of the employer’s pay bill, minus an apprenticeship levy allowance of £15,000 per financial year – is paid into an apprenticeship service account, and funds in this account have to be spent on apprenticeship training and assessment.

The survey has found, however that apprentices are unhappy about plans to change final assessments with John Coombes, IAC member and toolmaker at Ford Motor Company, stating that over than 90 per cent of apprentices oppose the removal of mandated qualifications, and that there is unease about the focus on the End Point Assessment (EPA) as the primary measure of an apprentice’s achievement.

Government ambitions appear in danger of being blown off course with the introduction of the Trailblazer Apprenticeship programme, which is designed to help employers dictate training according to their needs. Earlier this year the Institute for Apprentices was formed to give companies a stronger role in the leadership of the apprenticeship system, including the sanctioning of EPAs that assess trainees on knowledge, skills and behaviours deemed competent by employers.

This would see the removal of mandatory qualifications, putting apprentices at a disadvantage compared to their peers who choose the new T-Level route into work, thus gaining nationally recognised qualifications.

In February this year, The Engineer asked if apprenticeships should include formal qualifications, a question that prompted 78 per cent of 590 respondents to agree that formal qualifications are an essential mark of competence.

Unsurprisingly the survey, which was supported by Semta, also found apprentices less than satisfied with careers advice given to them. Just over a fifth (22 per cent) received good or very good advice from schools, with five per cent receiving no advice and nearly 40 per cent saying their advice was bad or very bad.

Similarly, 85 per cent of female apprentices said their school or college had put higher education as the number one option for school leavers, compared to 77 per cent for male apprentices.  Also, fewer young women were given information about apprenticeships compared to young men (35 per cent against 41 per cent).

To counter negative impacts on training, and to redress problems found in schools, the apprentices say no school should be awarded outstanding by OFSTED unless they deliver quality careers advice on apprenticeships and that this advice should be a statutory requirement in all schools. They also want formal qualifications included in apprenticeship standards wherever employers recommend them.

Ann Watson, chief executive of the Semta Group, said: “As we finalise new standards for apprenticeships it is important that ministers listen to apprentices and prevent the collapse of an extremely successful system. We are already facing an uphill battle with poor careers advice in schools. We need to make apprenticeships more attractive not less to our young people and employers, particularly the SMEs, at a time when we need all the engineers we can get and the skills gap is growing – we need nearly two million more engineers and technical staff by 2025.”

Is government right to tinker with apprenticeships and introduce EPAs, and what can schools do to improve careers advice? Let us know in Comments below.

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