With reference to the interview with John Hayes MP, shadow minister for vocational education, which appeared on 2nd July, I should like to clarify the current policy regarding some of the issues he raises in the interview and also in the recent report of which he is co-author.
I fully agree that apprenticeships should be employer based and that apprentices should be mentored. I also agree that apprenticeships should include a significant workplace training element. I agree wholeheartedly that apprenticeships are about learning in a work setting "“ that is their strength and why they have survived the policies of many governments since the appeared in this country sometime in the 1200s.
Where I disagree is in the report's view and that expressed by John on the current apprenticeship programme.
Firstly, the report suggests that the current apprenticeship frameworks are not owned by employers: Apprenticeship frameworks are designed to a blueprint approved by a group that included representatives from employers, the TUC, and DTI. The blueprint is due to be reviewed and the group charged with review will again seek employers" views. The responsibility for quality assuring apprenticeship frameworks lies with Sector Skills Councils, the bodies charged with determining employers needs and the demand for skills in their sector. The role of the LSC is to provide funding for frameworks that are approved and distributing this to employers and training providers who work with employers to offer apprenticeships. If apprenticeships frameworks are not fit for the employers purpose then employers need to work with their Sector Skills Council to correct this situation.
Secondly, the role of Programme Led Apprenticeships (PLAs) is misrepresented: In an ideal world PLAs would not be necessary as there would be enough employers offering apprenticeships to satisfy the demand from young people but this is not currently the case. Too few employers are prepared to offer this commitment to train young people and whilst we are working hard to address this situation, we can not turn our back on the many young people who seek an apprenticeship. This being so we need some means to enable young people to start learning a career whilst they look for an employer prepared to take them on. If they are to be in the best position to start an apprenticeship when it becomes available, they need to follow the same curriculum, as far as is practical, in an off the job setting. This is the role of Programme Led Apprenticeships that is laid out clearly in the Strategy. The Strategy states:
"The preferred Apprenticeship route is now and will continue to be, direct employment from the beginning of the Apprenticeship until its completion. Programme led apprenticeships should aim to achieve employed status as quickly as possible"
That is already the case for over 220,000 of the 240,000 apprentices currently in learning and we are working hard to make it so for all. To do this we need to match the demand for apprenticeships from young people to the supply of apprenticeships offered by employers.
Let me also make it clear that, despite assertions to the contrary, it is not possible to achieve an apprenticeship through a Programme Led Apprenticeship "“ it must be followed by a period spent demonstrating the skills learned in a work place "“ i.e. with an employer. Sector Skills Council are responsible for issuing apprenticeship completion certificates and the Strategy states:-
"a significant period of employment must be a feature of the training of any successful apprenticeship"
It is unhelpful to imply that there are serious shortcomings of apprenticeships. John and I both agree that employer commitment is the defining feature of apprenticeships. I hope he also agrees that we need more employers to offer high quality apprenticeships. If so, the way forward is to work together to convince more employers of the value to their businesses of apprenticeships, showcasing the best, as we did at our recent Apprentice of the Year Awards and through the best Practice Guide to Apprenticeships 2007. I believe that we can do this but our task is not made easier by inaccurate representation of the issues that we face that undermine the apprenticeship programme at the very time when the country needs the apprenticeship programme more than ever.
The Strategy for Programme Led Apprenticeship in England 2007-10 can be found on the apprenticeships website at apprenticeships.org.uk
Stephen Gardner, Director of Apprenticeships
Learning and Skills Council