What’s Going Wrong With Apprenticeships?


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Are employers being let down by training providers who don’t train?

Apprenticeships should be spectacularly compelling. For the apprentice, it’s a chance to build skills and experience while earning a wage. If your apprenticeship happens to include a degree, it’s a chance to get all of the above and escape a whopping great student debt at the end of it.

For the employer, it’s a chance to bring talent onto the payroll quicker a) so you can train it in the way you want your apprentices trained and b) so you don’t have to fight in the same recruitment pool as everyone else. When it works, it really works, as this example from a Manchester construction company demonstrates.

Sadly, it seems, too many apprenticeships are failing, and too many of them never get started.

Apprenticeship Levy fails to boost apprenticeships

If your annual wage bill exceeds £3m, you’ll know that since 2017, you’ve been required to pay the Apprenticeship Levy, where an amount equal to 0.5% of your salary costs must be set aside to cover training from approved providers.

It sounded like a good idea, but official figures show the number of apprentices has actually dropped since 2017. The FT says apprentice numbers are at their lowest since 2010. Even worse, the BBC cited an education think tank report that found nearly half (47%) of apprentices were failing to complete their courses, blaming lack of training and bad management.

“It would be a national scandal if A-level or university students were treated this badly,” said Tom Richmond, director of EDSK, the think tank involved in the research.

Inadequate training

You don’t have to look far for examples of poor practice. According to the Manchester Evening News, one Stockport provider rated ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted managed to enrol apprentices on the wrong course for four years. But experiences don’t have to be quite so dramatic to fail apprentices. Despite apprenticeships generally being a more vocational, less academic route, the government has allowed online lectures to count towards the day per week of off-the-job training. EDSK found some apprentices went months without receiving in-person training from an industry mentor.

The FT pointed to the significant number of new training providers allowed onto the market with little experience in workplace training. Although Ofsted found 76% of college provision was ‘good’ or above, just 64% of non-college-based training providers achieved a similar rating.

The need for better apprenticeships

Too many apprenticeships, it seems, are failing apprentices and employers. The issue has become particularly acute given the productivity and workforce issues the UK faces.

FE News highlights a need for more businesses to see apprenticeships not purely as a route for school leavers, but as a tool for increasing diversity and recruiting and developing talent at all levels. That may be true, but employers need to know that the organisations they entrust to deliver their training will deliver qualified apprentices at the end of it.

Want to make it easier to manage the HR and payroll of your apprentices (and everyone else)? Discover CintraHR.

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Chloe Walker
Chloe is Head of Marketing at the PSSG, leading the team across all our brands with her highly analytical, strategic and creative skill set. Outside of work, she loves spending time outdoors, running and cycling!