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Is There A Problem With Apprenticeships For 16 – 18 Year Olds?

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

Butcher 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?

It is absolutely right to engage in conversation about the quality of educational provision offered to young people. I also think that it is fair to raise concerns about two distinct pathways emerging, one where young people gain qualifications and progress either to further and higher level study and into secure, well paid employment and potentially one where young people potentially go down a road that no matter how good in itself has little value to them in a broader sense. One of the biggest problems might be that young people might be harbouring a view of apprenticeships that is informed by out of date information and above all, if young people are to make good and informed decisions about their future then they must have access to the information that they need.


About Lynette Daly

Lynette is the publishing editor of Moving On magazine. Moving On is devoted to helping young people make good choices for their future – education, qualifications and careers. Moving On really wants to motivate you! Our articles cover a range of topics to inspire and give ideas. Our magazines are delivered free to all schools, colleges and sixth forms in England and is also available online.

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