The most recent statistics from the DfEE revealed that just 32 per cent of people leaving the Modern Apprenticeship scheme achieved an NVQ Level 3 qualification or higher.
The figures also show major discrepancies between sectors. The motor industry and engineering manufacturing performed better than average, with 44 per cent and 36 per cent completion rates respectively, but the hospitality and retailing sectors only achieved 15 per cent and 11 per cent.
John Brennan, director of further education development at the Association of Colleges, says: “I’m disappointed that one of the major government programmes for young people has such a low success rate.”
He adds that while the Government has been keen to challenge colleges on the success of further education programmes it has been less vocal about the much lower completion rates for modern apprenticeships. “The question is, what does the Government intend to do and is it committed to raising standards in this area of work-based programmes?”
One of the main reasons for the low success rate appears to be the attitude of employers. A DfEE study last September on work-based training generally, Tackling Early Leaving from Youth Programmes, said some training providers had suggested “that a number of employers pressurise young people to leave training early or to take up permanent employment with or without training”.
Another problem, according to the DfEE, was poor initial assessment by training providers of young people entering programmes such as Modern Apprenticeships. It found assessment can range from an interview to establish exam results to a much more rigorous assessment of basic and key skills. Proper initial assessment helps with retention, the study said.
Adrian Anderson, director of policy at the NTO National Council, says: “It’s clear a lot needs to be done on Modern Apprenticeships and that’s something both we and the DfEE recognise.”
NTOs have developed the training frameworks delivered through Tecs, says Anderson, but he argues that NTOs could play a wider role in evaluating and monitoring Modern Apprenticeships, which could help improve completion rates.
“We have sent proposals to the secretary of state outlining a new role for national training organisations in evaluation, marketing and review of work-based training,” he says, adding that this would be an appropriate task for NTOs because they enjoy strong employer backing.
Another area the Government is expected to examine is whether NVQ Level 3 is an appropriate completion point for all modern apprenticeships.
The much lower success rates in sectors such as retailing suggest employers in those areas do not necessarily feel trainees need to achieve such a high standard.
“In retail, there is no tradition of NVQ Level 3 and employers often see Level 2 as an acceptable standard,” says Brennan.
Iain Murray, policy officer at the TUC, accepts this may be an issue and points to proposals by the NTO National Council for two modern apprenticeship tracks. “One would take young people to NVQ Level 2 and the other to Level 3.”
Murray, while accepting there are a variety of reasons for the low success rate, stresses employers need to be aware of their responsibilities under the programme: “The modern apprenticeship debate is part of a much wider examination of work-based training and we’re not just blaming employers for problems.
“But it’s clear employers need to be aware of their roles and responsibilities in ensuring young people receive the training they are supposed to.”
It is clear the DfEE will have to do a lot of thinking, says John Brennan, on how work-based training will be delivered in the future, but he is sceptical about whether changes will occur in the short term.
“At the moment the Government is funding a Level 3 programme but only getting a Level 2 output, so perhaps the funding regime needs to be rethought,” he says. “But I haven’t seen any indication that the Government is considering action.
“ The abolition of Tecs, however, may provide an opportunity to reshape the system, he believes: “In the long term the abolition of Tecs and creation of learning and skills councils may provide a chance to look at this funding issue.”
Case study: Matra Marconi Space
Success or failure the employer’s choice, says space company
Commitment by the employer is one of the key elements in a successful modern apprenticeship programme, according to Glyn Berrington, UK training and development manager at satellite manufacturer Matra Marconi Space.
“We have a 100 per cent completion record for our modern apprentices and that is because we have high expectations from the word go and push our young people hard in employment and at college,” he says.
The company has around 40 young people doing modern apprenticeships in mechanical and electrical engineering.
The company takes seriously its relationship with colleges, says Berrington, and has a “preferred supplier” list of favoured training providers. It also ensures commitment from young people by insisting all candidates for the scheme attend a one-day selection process to assess personal skills and motivation.
The key to the success of the programme is not relying on others, such as colleges, but for the employer to take a proactive role in monitoring Modern Apprenticeships, he says. “We rely on the colleges for the academic part, but it’s up to us to ensure the programme is working overall and to monitor people’s progress.”
In practice, this means informing line managers of their responsibility and having a dedicated member of the training staff whose job is to manage in-work training programmes for young people.
“We have seen Tecs come and go in the same way as the old Engineering Training Board but, when it comes to how successful schemes like modern apprenticeships are, the buck stops with the employer,” says Berrington.
By Patrick McCurry