The apprenticeship system is neglecting young, low-skilled Brits, warns a new report
A “lost generation” of young workers looms without significant intervention, warns the Centre for Social Justice
The report, by leading think tank the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) has called on the Government to act quickly to ensure apprenticeships are “right at the heart” of the economic recovery following lockdown.
The report ‘Trade Secrets: How to reboot apprenticeships and kick-start the recovery‘ estimates 800,000 new young people – in addition to existing numbers – will face “a barren jobs market” following the economic crisis brought on by Covid-19. The think tank warns that apprenticeships could be facing a steep decline without private and public sector intervention, as only 39 per cent of apprenticeships continued as normal throughout lockdown.
There are also concerns that young, inexperienced apprentices will be the first to go over the next few months as the economic crisis looks set to continue.
The report finds that the mix of apprenticeships has, in recent years, been leaning away from school leavers and younger individuals, in favour of older and increasingly highly skilled individuals. In addition, almost a fifth of levy-paying employers rebadge training or accredit existing skills.
The report argues that while the apprenticeships system should play a part in reskilling established workers, it must not crowd out opportunities for people who are about to join the market.
The CSJ is calling for individuals who hold an existing degree-level qualification to not be eligible for any apprenticeship funds to undertake a degree-level apprenticeship. These individuals should, instead, have access to student finance to support the costs of their degree-level apprenticeships.
The think tank insists the government should also fund the training costs associated with all 16-18-year old apprentices, especially given the requirement to remain in education or apprenticeship until the age of 18.
The report shows that widespread non-completion of apprentice courses is another serious problem. Around a third of apprentices who reach the end of their terms have not officially finished their apprenticeships. Some report that they do not receive the right training, while others struggle with costs – particularly in relation to transport.
Some report that they are not receiving the correct minimum wage. According to one study, almost a fifth of apprentices report that they were paid below the appropriate wage for level 2 and 3 apprenticeships.
New ways of providing apprentice training in the wake of Covid-19 are being considered. In the government’s budget statement on 11 March 2020, it committed £5 million to improve the capacity and functionality of its digital Apprenticeship Service.
The CSJ argues that the new digital Apprenticeship Service should also include a productivity calculator to demonstrate the likely return on investment on different apprenticeships. Harper Adams University has already devised such a tool for degree apprenticeships, and the DfE should devise an equivalent tool for all apprenticeships, based on the latest labour market information. And there is need to communicate to employers about the support they can get, as 43 per cent of employers who employ apprentices are not aware of any form of financial support available to them.
In light of the pandemic, the CSJ presses the case for a higher quality and quantity of apprenticeships, noting that in some cases, “good quality apprenticeships are being compromised”. Level 2 apprenticeships, typically undertaken by more disadvantaged learners, are feared to be declining while higher-level courses benefit those already with good employment prospects; the CSJ argues for a refined traineeships programme to help bridge the gap left by the fall in level 2 apprenticeships.
The CSJ also sees huge potential among SMEs, which operate in a world in which apprenticeships are effectively capped. There is demand from SMEs for around 85,000 apprenticeships but many cannot afford the associated training costs, and the CSJ says the government should set demand free by supporting their training.
The think tank proposes twenty recommendations for updating the system, including using apprenticeships to fill public sector vacancies in nursing and teaching, offering a time-limited wage subsidy, and introducing a concessionary scheme to help disadvantaged apprentices’ meet their travelling costs.
Rob Halfon MP, Chair of the Education Select Committee, backed the report:
“Apprenticeships change lives. They combine a real job with training so that people can earn while they learn.
“I was over the moon when the Prime Minister recently expressed his support for an apprenticeship guarantee – something I have been campaigning for over many years.
“I want us to work towards being able to guarantee that any young person who wants an apprenticeship, and who has the right skills and qualifications to complete one, can make it happen.
“This excellent new CSJ report crafts a clear pathway to such an end. It allows us to pinpoint the challenges that stand in the way of this ambition – particularly when it comes to supporting society’s most disadvantaged individuals.
“It is brimming with ideas that will help us to build a much stronger apprenticeships offer. It does all of this at a precarious time for our nation, when we look to recover from a devastating blow to our economy and retrain for the future.”
Andy Cook, CSJ Chief Executive, said:
“Covid-19 threatens the lives and livelihoods of millions of Brits, especially the job prospects of young people, who risk becoming a ‘lost generation’.
“In any economic scenario, incentivising new routes into job security, away from the traditional model of school and university for all, is a good idea. The pandemic makes that even more urgent.
“The CSJ’s new report shines a light on the need for more apprenticeship and training opportunities, and provides a comprehensive list of recommendations on how to offer them. The solution requires a combined effort from the private and public sectors.
“Offering training in key areas of the economy will help countless young people to find and hold jobs, and employers to win much-needed business.
“For those finding work, it will remind them of their human dignity and responsibility to society, and remove many of the social and cultural headaches that can emerge from unemployment or underemployment.”