Education & Family

Apprenticeships plan 'needs to be linked to economy'

Bricklayer Image copyright PA
Image caption Different apprenticeships command widely different wages

The government's multi-billion pound apprenticeships scheme needs to be more strategically linked to its plans for economic growth, a report says.

The National Audit Office says the government's plans for three million new apprenticeships in England by 2020 should be honed to meet skills gaps.

The focus should be less on how many apprenticeships are created and more on which sector needs them, it adds.

A minister said employers are creating training places to meet their needs.

The report says the Department for Education (DfE), which was recently given overall responsibility for the apprenticeships programme, has not yet set out how the increase in apprenticeship numbers will lead to increased productivity.

Presently, it relies on market mechanisms to attract the right apprenticeships to address skills gaps in the economy.

The DfE is "therefore not directly involved in deciding where, or at what level, apprenticeships take place".

'Earnings potential'

For maximum benefit to the country, it adds, there needs to be "a clear rationale for how apprenticeships fit into the wider plan for productivity and growth".

The report argues that "without this strategic underpinning, there is a clear risk that the drive to deliver greater numbers is delivered at the expense of delivering maximum value".

The NAO report also stresses that the DfE has no way of checking how its programme is achieving its aims.

"There are no success measures in terms of, for example, how the programme is impacting on skills levels, addressing skills gaps or improving achievement rates," it says.

But the report does note that the programme is in the early stages of a transition, and that it has been suggested a new Institute for Apprenticeships may take on the role of measuring success.

The NAO also highlights research comparing the earnings potential of successful apprentices and those following different paths.

'Ladder of opportunity'

There are significant differences in earnings for apprentices across different sectors, but the report says that the most common apprenticeships do not command the biggest wages.

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said: "The Department for Education needs to chart and follow a course from having a lot of apprenticeships to having the right apprenticeships in order to help improve the UK's productivity and achieve value for money, in return for the costs of the programme."

Petra Wilton of the Chartered Management Institute, said: "It's far too early to measure the impact of the new trailblazer apprenticeships - as apprentices on the new degree courses have not yet even finished their first year.

"There's no doubt higher apprenticeship programmes make a positive economic contribution."

Apprenticeships and Skills Minister Robert Halfon said: "Our apprenticeship reforms give young people a ladder of opportunity, provide employers with high quality apprentices and deliver real benefits to the economy.

"We are giving employers more power than ever before to design apprenticeships that are rigorous, robust and world class.

"The new Institute for Apprenticeships will ensure that apprenticeships are even more closely tailored to the needs of employers."

Shadow Minister for Higher Education, Further Education, and Skills, Gordon Marsden said the report underlined what opposition MPs had been saying for months.

"The government needs to put extra capacity urgently into delivering the strategy.

"Robert Halfon needs to lobby his Treasury colleagues to give the apprenticeship agencies the funding to carry this programme through properly."

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