Apprenticeships review calls for focus on employers

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The definition of apprenticeships has been “stretched too far”, according to a government-commissioned review published today.

The Richard Review, compiled by entrepreneur and former Dragon’s Den star Doug Richard, recommends that apprenticeships last at least one year and genuinely train someone for a new role.

The report highlights a rapid increase in the number of apprenticeships in England in recent years, but warns that the traditional relationship between employer and apprentice had been lost. It also highlights concerns around quality: some apprenticeships are as short as three months, while others have been criticised for being used to train existing staff rather than helping a new employee to gain crucial job skills.

Richard said: “Everyone agrees that apprenticeships are a good thing – but only when they are ‘true’ apprenticeships. With the myriad of learning experiences that are currently labelled as apprenticeships, we risk losing sight of the core features of what makes apprenticeships work, so my conclusion is that we need to look again at what it means to be an apprentice and what it means to offer an apprenticeship as an employer.

“Apprenticeships need to be high-quality training with serious kudos and tangible value both to the apprentice and the employer. I want to hear about an 18-year-old who looked at their options and turned down a place at Oxbridge to take up an apprenticeship if that is the right path for them.”

While Richard acknowledged that some work-related skills can be learnt in a shorter time, he believes it takes time for “the individual to transform from an apprentice to a skilled worker”. Training someone who has been in the job for a long time should not be called an apprenticeship, he added.

Richard also called for employers – rather than government – to define a new set of qualifications setting out what an apprentice should be able to do at the end of their training, which should include a set of skills broad enough for them to use in other jobs. Too many vocational qualifications suffer from “bureaucratic box ticking assessment” at present, the report says.

The report was welcomed by ministers and employers’ groups. Business secretary Vince Cable said: “[Richard’s] recommendations will help us to tailor a programme which is sustainable, high-quality and meets the changing needs of our economy in the decades to come.”

Katerina Rudiger, skills adviser at the Chartered Institure of Personnel and Development, said: “Today’s recommendations from the Richard Review of Apprenticeships are welcome, with a clear emphasis on employers owning the process of defining what a good apprenticeship looks like, and on funding for apprenticeships being channelled through employers. Together, these recommendations will deliver far greater employer collaboration and ownership of the apprenticeships system.

“Apprenticeships are a growing success story. But future skills needs are an urgent priority for employers and the UK economy. Having commissioned Doug Richard to complete this important work, it is now imperative that the Government commits to implementing these recommendations, and acts to do so quickly.”

Steve Radley, director of policy at manufacturers’ organisation EEF, urged the Government to respond positively to the recommendations and implement them quickly. “While recent increases in apprenticeship volumes are welcome, we have not seen a matching increase in value,” he said. “[Richard] rightly recommends that any future apprenticeships strategy must be based on three key elements – raising our level of ambition, giving employers the power to set standards and creating a dynamic market in apprenticeship training where the funding follows the employer that is making the investment.”

For more information on apprenticeships, see Personnel Today’s employers’ guide on the topic.

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