The Earning and Learning report published by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) thinks that there is indeed a problem with apprenticeships for 16 – 18 year olds.
What are the problems with apprenticeships for 16 – 18 year olds?
The report points to several problems with Level 2 apprenticeships for 16 – 18 year olds, including:
- The “overly job-specific” nature of the apprenticeship standards
- A level of off-the-job training that is inadequate in terms of meeting the specific needs of 16 – 18 year olds
- The removal of any requirement for apprenticeships to include any formal, nationally recognised qualification beyond Level 2 English and maths.
What do the IPPR recommend?
The recommendations made by the IPPR are that:
A pre-apprenticeship programme for 16 – 18 year olds is developed which better meets the needs and future interests of young people. This would replace the Level 2 apprenticeships for 16 – 18 year olds and would:
- Contain an off-the-job training element which makes up 50 per cent of the programme, rather than the current 20 per cent
- Result in a recognised Level 2 qualification, in addition to maths and English to ensure that young people have a “transferable qualification that will help them to progress”
- Be subsidised by government to incentivise employers
- Be designed in line with the 15 technical pathways identified by the Sainsbury review
- Only be offered by FE colleges and not-for-profit training providers
- Be designed to help young people progress to a Level 3 apprenticeship.
The report is produced and presented within the context of a wider discussion of how well Level 2 study prepares young people for future progression and future success and draws on many key facts, such as the greater difficulties that young people face in terms of finding secure and well paid employment when they lack qualifications above Level 2.
Any perceived criticism of apprenticeships can be met with a special kind of righteous indignation and this report is no exception. Some have accused the IPPR of being wrong to state that employers aren’t interested in offering 16 – 18 year olds apprenticeships, although, to be fair to the IPPR, this suggestion does only appear on page 30 of the 40 page report and certainly doesn’t form the core argument for the proposed changes. It’s also not the first time that the suggestion has been made that employers are more drawn to older apprentices as a method of getting more for their investment, given that older apprentices tend to have more experience and better developed skills. Johannes Kopf, MD of Austrian Public Employer Service made this very point at a Westminster Forum event in May of 2015.
Two important elements of the recommendations
An increase in off-the-job training for 16 – 18 year olds
Having worked with apprentices and apprenticeship training providers, I have seen first-hand how difficult it can be to fit training in. An apprentice that requires training in maths and English in addition to core training can sometimes be faced with a jam-packed timetable of sessions, some of which are delivered outside of the normal time table hours in order to accommodate all elements of the programme and also other time tabled commitments of delivery staff. It is possible that having the division of work and study more evenly split might help to alleviate this problem.
Gaining a recognised Level 2 qualification
This I think is an important point because for a long time now, the public communication regarding apprenticeships has pushed the fact that apprenticeships are a legitimate and good alternative to traditional study routes in part through stating that apprentices will earn a wage, avoid tuition fees and get a nationally recognised qualification. In the spirit of transparency and enabling informed choices, it is important that young people and their parents understand that with the introduction of new apprenticeship standards, this is not a given and in light of the evidence that gaining qualifications at Level 3 and above offers better opportunities of securing well paid employment this is particularly important.
Does ensuring the future progression and success of young apprentices really require an abolition of Level 2 apprenticeships for 16 – 18 year olds?
Arguably, the report makes some very good points and all are directed at improving the provision for young people. Equally however, it could be argued that there is no need to abolish Level 2 apprenticeships for 16 – 18 year olds but that the quality and content of apprenticeships requires further scrutiny in line with the findings of the report, after all, there is a general agreement that apprenticeships can offer, as the IPPR state, an “effective vehicle to ensure that young people receive work experience alongside education” and there is also widespread agreement that doing our best by all young people is in the interests of everyone.
Which apprenticeship standards offer the greatest human capital investment?
By human capital I mean the collective skills and knowledge of individuals that can be used to create economic value and by the greatest human capital investment I mean the skills and knowledge that provide the widest spread of opportunity in terms of transferability and progression.
The following is only an assessment of Level 2 apprenticeships which are approved for delivery.
Of the 33 Level 2 apprenticeship standards approved for delivery 11 include the requirement to complete a nationally recognised qualification and these are:
Adult care worker apprenticeship
Aviation maintenance mechanic (military) apprenticeship
Highway electrical maintenance and installation operative apprenticeship
Food and drink process operator apprenticeship
Healthcare science assistant apprenticeship
Land based service engineer apprenticeship
Able seafarer (deck) apprenticeship
Non-destructive testing operator apprenticeship
Nuclear health physics monitor apprenticeship
Rail engineering operative apprenticeship
So, is there a problem with apprenticeships for 16 – 18 year olds?