Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and Education Committees have today (10 Nov) published the Government's response to the joint report Apprenticeships.

The original report from the two Committees examined the Government’s ongoing reforms to apprenticeship funding, administration and standards, and recommended a number of changes.

The Government welcomes the Committee’s recognition of the importance of apprenticeships. They are committed to ensuring high quality apprenticeships deliver the skills employers and the economy need for growth, and that individuals need to progress in work and life. More high quality apprenticeships will mean more people from all backgrounds have the opportunity to achieve the benefits associated with completing an apprenticeship, in terms of increased wages and long-term employment.

In December 2015, the Government published English Apprenticeships: our 2020 vision, setting out their programme of reform for increasing the quantity and quality of apprenticeships in England, putting the development of apprenticeships firmly in the hands of employers, and placing the funding of the system on a sustainable footing.

The Committee’s report comes at a crucial point in the Government’s reform programme, with significant progress made during and since the Committee’s inquiry. The Institute for Apprenticeships is now operational, governing high-quality apprenticeship standards. The Government have introduced the Apprenticeship Levy, on schedule, and levy-paying employers are now using the apprenticeship service to manage their funds and invest in their future talent pipelines.

These reforms will ensure apprenticeships deliver the skills employers and the country need, giving more people from all backgrounds the training and employment experience they need for career progression.

Progress towards achieving three million starts by 2020 is on track. But the Government agrees with the Committee that the programme must achieve a wider range of benefits, supporting quality and participation. In March 2017, the Government published their Benefits Strategy for the programme. This sets out the success measures, targets and ambitions they will achieve to ensure people in this country, from all walks of life, are doing the high quality apprenticeships that give them valuable skills and knowledge employers seek.

Ensuring that access to high-quality training through apprenticeships is not determined by background is crucial if they are to create a skills-system that truly works for everyone.

The Government have taken major steps in addressing barriers to apprenticeships for some of the hardest to reach groups, including ongoing implementation of the Maynard Taskforce recommendations to support learners with learning difficulties and disabilities, committing funding for apprenticeships in disadvantaged areas, and increasing apprenticeship starts by people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds.

The Committee is absolutely right that the prestige of the programme will follow the increase in quality. The Government are creating a world class apprenticeship system, giving industry the role of setting the bar for high-quality apprenticeships through employer-led standards, and setting up the Institute for Apprenticeships to uphold their quality.

Employers know more about their current and future skills needs than anyone else, which is why the Government have placed them right at centre of the system. Employers are designing new apprenticeship standards that describe the skills, knowledge and behaviours needed in their workforce; they sit on the board of the Institute for Apprenticeships, upholding the quality of standards and assessment plans; and they are in control of apprenticeship funding using the apprenticeship service to manage their funds (if they pay the levy), choose the right apprenticeship standard or framework, and find a training provider.

Prestige of the programme is being driven also by the increasing employer-demand for higher and degree level apprenticeships. There were just over 27,000 starts on higher level apprenticeships (levels 4–7) in 2015/16 up from just under 20,000 in 2014/15. It will be increasingly important for young people to have a good set of high quality technical options, as well as academic options, at all levels, and degree apprenticeships are paving the way to ensuring this is the case.

As the Committee points out, apprenticeships should not be seen as the solution to every skills problem. Whilst it is vital that the Government have an apprenticeship system that is responsive and flexible to the needs of employers and individuals, that is only one part of the Government’s plan for delivering a high-skilled, competitive economy that benefits people throughout the country.

Reforms to the technical education system will offer high quality college-based routes as well as apprenticeships. The Government will be investing £500 million per year in England’s technical education system, which will deliver on the recommendations of Lord Sainsbury’s review.

This will support 16–19 year olds complete over 900 hours of training per year, including high quality work placements.

All of this will be underpinned by a transformation of careers advice, guidance and support on the range of options the Government are creating for young people. They are committed to publishing a comprehensive Careers Strategy in the Autumn. The quality and breadth of coverage will make it easier for people to progress into apprenticeships, technical routes and academic learning.

Apprenticeships are one of the cornerstones of the world class technical education system and the Apprenticeship Levy will fund a step change in the way this country invests in them. The Government will reverse the declining trend in employer investment in training by giving employers the flexibility to determine the content of apprenticeships, and establishing them as a customer in purchasing training.

An employer-led apprenticeship system needs to be underpinned by a highly flexible and responsive provider base which meets the evolving needs of employers and the economy.

To create this, the Government must harness the power of a carefully regulated market to drive constant improvement and innovation. The Register of Apprenticeship Training Providers will act as the Government’s quality threshold as they encourage new providers into the market. Competition in the market will drive out unsatisfactory providers, increasingly so as more employers purchase directly from providers using their apprenticeship funds.

The Government have worked with large and small employers from the public, private and charitable sector, colleges, independent training providers, representative bodies and third sector organisations in implementing their reforms, and will continue to do so to ensure the system delivers on their reform principles, and meets the needs of industry.

The introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy, launch of the apprenticeship service, and establishment of the Institute for Apprenticeships are significant milestones. It will take some time for employers and providers to adapt during this period of transition. The Government will continue to monitor and review apprenticeship policy and delivery as they embed the new system to ensure it delivers return on investment for employers, meets their skills needs and gives individuals the training they need to build meaningful and successful careers.

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