Apprenticeships can be traced back to the 12th century where parents would sign a contract with a local tradesman, lasting 5-9 years, to fully quip them with the skills of that particular trade with the eventual aim of securing lifelong employment.
More recently, apprenticeships have been recognised as an important way to provide a supply of young people seeking to enter work-based learning by offering structured high-value learning and transferable skills and knowledge. From April 2017, the Government introduced an apprenticeship ‘levy’ to ensure its long term funding. All businesses with annual pay bills of £3m and above now pay a levy of 0.5%. The idea is that these funds will then be available to the employer (and others) to spend on providing apprenticeship training for new and existing staff.
The system is intrinsically employer-lead and relies on a certain level of ‘buy in’ from employers willing to train up their staff. However, Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, recently shared his view that levy funds should be used on those who ‘can benefit most from an apprenticeship, such as those starting out in their careers or those from disadvantaged backgrounds’. This was in rebuke to several organisations who are using their levy contribution to upskill their own senior staff with MBA level qualifications. RISE certainly shares the Education secretary’s ambition that the apprenticeship system should make a positive contribution in terms of social mobility.
In light of the impending economic disruption due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, announced an apprenticeship guarantee for all young people. It is clear that this is intended to act as a safety net, capturing all those who will lose jobs after the rolling back of the Government’s furlough scheme. It is designed to encourage employers to take advantage of subsidies to take on new staff, whilst providing training of new skills to the workforce and at the same time reducing unemployment.
Whilst there is little that the Government can do beyond encouraging private sector employers to take on new apprentices, it can, quite easily increase the proportion of new employees who are apprentices in public sector organisations. Currently such organisations only have a target of 2.3% for apprenticeship starts. By increasing this target as well as limiting funding to higher level apprenticeships, we would begin to develop a pipeline to a sustainable, futureproof workforce, in education, health and justice sectors while also fulfilling on the pledge of an apprenticeship guarantee.
We are hopeful that a renewed focus on apprenticeships can overturn the decline in uptake we’ve seen over the last few years. We saw apprenticeship starts decline by 15% last year for those aged 16-19. This decline has been further exacerbated by the pandemic with the Sutton Trust warning that almost half of apprentices had been furloughed or made redundant.