MPs cast doubts on government’s apprenticeship masterplan

A select committee report out today casts doubt on whether the Learning & Skills Council (LSC) will be able to secure enough apprenticeship placements for youngsters who want them, while another also expressed concern about government plans.

The first report, by the Children, Schools and Families Select Committee, said: “The economic downturn could have a serious impact on the ability of the LSC to secure apprenticeship placements for each suitable qualified young person who wants one.”

It added that: “it has grave doubts about whether a statutory duty on the LSC – and successor bodies – to provide sufficient apprenticeship placements can be met without compromising quality”.

The committee also said the government’s commitment to supply sufficient apprenticeship places “is impossible with there being a huge expansion of public sector apprenticeships”.

Committee chairman Barry Sheerman said: “We raise serious concerns about the ability of the LSC to secure sufficient and appropriate placements while the impact of the current economic climate on this duty must be addressed. It’s now time for the public sector to step up and play its part in boosting apprenticeship opportunities with quality at the heart of every placement.”

Personnel Today asked the LSC to comment, and is awaiting a response.

Another select committee, the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee, wants the draft apprenticeships Bill rewritten to place more emphasis on promoting, monitoring and reporting on the quality of apprenticeships undertaken in England. It’s concerned that without such scrutiny, the legislation risks devaluing apprenticeships, and they “will not be regarded as a progressive route to a career.”

The committee also has doubts as to what the right to an apprenticeship place, which the bill intends to grant to all suitably qualified young people, will mean in practice.

It called on the government to make a statement of clarity on this.

It also said there were no provisions in the Bill on how to encourage apprenticeships during a downturn. It wants the government to state how it expects the public sector to provide apprenticeships during the slump.

It said the draft Bill fell down as it omitted mention of:

  • Specification of apprenticeship standards
  • Details on how the National Apprenticeship Service would be resourced or organised
  • How the legislation would apply in Wales.

Meanwhile the government has launched the Apprentices Expansion Programme aimed at raising apprenticeship numbers to fill existing skills gaps. It will be trialled via the LSC with participating employers having access to a fund of more than £10m over the next three years.

Only small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that run schemes that are deemed high quality will qualify for funding. Any business interested should contact the LSC.

The government plans to have 400,000 young people on apprenticeships by 2020 in England. There are about 190,000 now.

This is the latest flurry of activity on apprenticeships. Back in July, skills minister John Denham promised a National Apprenticeship service would be set up but there’s no sign of it yet, other than an ad in the Times in June for a chief executive at a salary of £150,000, plus a bonus of up to 20%.

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