Education & Family

Too few young people becoming apprentices, say MPs

Plumber Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Traditionally apprentices learned a trade, but now they cover a wider range of occupations

Not enough teenagers are taking up apprenticeships despite concerted government efforts, including £1.6bn of investment, a group of MPs has said.

Apprenticeships have increased overall since 2010 but among 16 to 19 year olds the number has decreased by 10,000.

The Commons Education Committee says only apprenticeships offer substantial training with rising future earnings.

The government said the report recognised that it had significantly raised the quality of apprenticeships.

The committee's report, Apprenticeships and Traineeships for 16 to 19 year olds, looks at the official figures on the number of young apprentices.

It finds that in 2013-14, 119,760 teenagers were on apprenticeships. That compares with 129,890 in 2010.

'Weeded out'

The report says direct comparisons between the years before and after 2011-12 are not possible, because of changes in the way data is collected.

But the "general trend shows little or no increase in overall numbers of starts for 16 to 19-year-olds over the last five years.

"The minister suggested to us that the removal of short and programme-led apprenticeships had led to 40,000 such schemes for young people being 'weeded out'."

This was in response to changes that define apprenticeships as lasting more than 12 months.

But it also comes against a back-drop of apprenticeship training schemes being expanded and £1.6bn-worth of government investment since 2012.

Alison Fuller, professor of vocational education and work at the Institute of Education in London, told the committee: "The rather stubborn figure that remains is about 6% of 16-to-19s will at some point start a government supported apprenticeship.

"It is important to have that context; it is very small and it has not gone up. It remains a challenge to increase it."

The majority of this age-group will join a Level 2 or Intermediate Apprenticeship which is equivalent to obtaining good GCSEs.

'Quality'

However, the report says these "vary in the degree of demand made of the apprentice".

It says the government is seeking to increase the number of apprenticeships by extending the range of sectors making them available.

"It is important to ensure that such growth does not sacrifice quality, as apprenticeships should always require substantial training and always deliver a substantial uplift in earning power for the apprentice," it adds.

"Level 2 apprenticeships that comply with these principles should be retained."

However, some contributors question whether training at this level is adequate for an apprenticeship at all.

Prof Alison Fuller asks if a year's training is "really a secure platform for progression for future earnings and secure trajectories into higher paid and higher skilled jobs?"

She says she isn't sure it is. And, "in comparator countries that would not count as an apprenticeship."

'Applauded'

The committee also examined at the benefits of apprenticeships for business.

It cites research suggesting that 84% of employers surveyed were satisfied with apprenticeships and 60% were highly satisfied.

But it queries government assessments of the future earnings potential of apprenticeships.

These suggest those who complete a Level 2 apprenticeship will earn between £48,000 and £74,000 more during their lifetime than people who don't have similar qualifications.

And that those who have completed a Level 3 scheme (equivalent of A-levels) will earn between £77,000 and £117,000 more.

But David Massey from the UK Commission on Employment and Skills suggested that some apprenticeship frameworks would confer much higher earnings than others, and suggested more information was required.

The Department for Education said: "This government has significantly raised the quality of apprenticeships and introduced traineeships to ensure young people have the skills that employers need, and it is hugely encouraging that today's report recognises this.

"We welcome the report's recognition that the number of high-quality apprenticeships for young people has doubled, and that apprenticeships offer excellent opportunities for young people and should not be seen as a second class option.

"On the eve of National Apprenticeships Week, this is also a timely reminder to employers of the value of apprenticeships and traineeships, and we would urge those who are not doing so already to take this opportunity to offer them."

Sally Hunt, head of the academics union, UCU, said: "The government's efforts to expand apprenticeships should be applauded but ministers must recognise that one size simply doesn't fit all.

"Flexibility is crucial in order to cater for the needs of different types of students and employers.

"Linking apprenticeships to youth unemployment and stripping away funding for other types of courses risks damaging their status as a high-quality training option."

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