Apprenticeships still the poor relation warns skills committee chairman

The government will not hit its targets for apprenticeship schemes until it addresses the ‘pecking order’ in the education system, an influential MP has warned.

Phil Willis, chairman of the Innovation, Universities and Skills Select Committee, told Personnel Today that just setting targets would fail. “The government has set up a system where three silos – diplomas, apprenticeships and degrees – operate in isolation. And until it solves that issue, there is always going to be a pecking order,” he said.

His comments follow publication of the Nuffield Review of 14-19 education and training, which suggested that encouraging young people to stay in full-time education and take up diplomas could affect the success of apprenticeships.

The government has set itself a target of increasing the number of apprenticeship schemes from 250,000 to 400,000 by 2011, helped by raising the school-leaving age to 18. However, Nuffield Review author Geoff Hayward warned that apprenticeships compete with other education and training pathways available to young people.

He said: “The risk of expanding apprenticeships further to meet government targets is that the public subsidises training in sectors that do not require intermediate level skills and which offer a poor learning experience for the apprentice.”

The number of young people starting apprenticeships peaked four years ago and has now started to decline, according to Hayward.

David Frost, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “Reviving apprenticeships is only going to work if they are known to be rigorous and high quality. Currently, too many do not offer what employers need, and apprenticeships are seen as something for other people’s teenagers.”

A government review of the apprenticeship programme is due out this week.

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