National Apprenticeship week is a great opportunity to celebrate all that is good about our apprenticeships. It is imperative that the government ensure that apprenticeships are not only targeted to work for our young people, but that they provide decent, sustainable routes into employment across the UK, ensuring that our economy as a whole benefits just as much in the North as in the South.
Anna Turley is a senior research fellow at IPPR North
National Apprenticeship week is a great opportunity to celebrate all that is good about our apprenticeships.
They provide a great opportunity for young people to get their foot on the ladder, allowing them to develop their skills within the workplace, and get an invaluable practical introduction to working life.
They are an important recognition that university is not the be-all and end-all for young people, and that there are different, but equally valuable routes into the working world.
Crucially, as the Centre for Economics and Business Research has predicted, they could contribute up to £3.4bn a year to the UK economy through productivity gains by 2022.
There is much to celebrate.
The government’s commitment to apprenticeships outlined today and the 13.9 per cent rise in apprenticeships we have seen in the last two years should also be welcomed.
However, there are some deeper concerns underneath the headline statistics that the government must urgently address when they respond formally to the Richard Review into apprenticeships later this week.
Firstly, figures show that beneath the headline rise, the vast proportion of apprenticeships are going to those over the age of 25. The number of apprenticeships going to this age group has risen by 367 per cent in the last two years.
While this is not in itself a problem, the focus ought to be on school leavers. In a context where youth unemployment is nearing the million mark, and when long-term youth unemployment has trebled since the last election. The number of 16-18 year olds going into apprenticeships has actually declined (by 1.4 per cent nationally).
The second major concern with the current figures is that they only tell half the story. We know that half these apprenticeships are going to those who are already in work.
Are we simply seeing an exercise in rebranding?
For example, the 367 per cent rise in over 25 apprenticeships could mask the fact that the government scrapped the previous ‘Train to Gain’ programme, without a replacement, which had trained over half a million workers in 2009/10.
Most worryingly, the government’s recent Apprenticeship Pay Survey showed that 1 in 5 apprentices said they received no training, while 5 per cent said they received no pay.
The other key issue is whether we are getting apprenticeships in the right places and the right industries.
Within the decline in 16-18 apprenticeships, the geographical disparity is stark. In the North East and the North West, where unemployment is already disproportionately high, 16-18 apprenticeships are down by approximately 2000 per region in the last year, compared with the South East, where they rose by around 500.
If the government are serious about their intentions to rebalance the economy they must do better in the North.
Similarly, the spread of apprenticeships within the economy may not best reflect the economic need to ensure we are giving young people the skills and experience they need to flourish in the industries of the future. Over half as many apprenticeships are going into retail and commerce as are going into engineering and manufacturing.
IPPR North has put forward key proposals to support the development of apprenticeships in the North through its Northern Economic Futures Commission, launched last November, with recommendations to double the number of young people in advanced level three apprenticeships by 2015, expand pre-apprenticeship training in further education colleges and bring together employers, local authorities and training providers at local level.
Several local councils are already taking matters into their own hands.
Councils such as Newham, Knowsley, Sheffield, Leeds, Plymouth and Manchester are all developing apprenticeships strategies with local employers.
Building on this progress, we recommend that a significant proportion of the currently complex and dysfunctional national skills systems and budgets should be devolved to local authorities and their partners in city regions and local enterprise partnerships to allow them to better co-ordinate and develop the skills, good quality apprenticeships and job opportunities around the economic needs of a region.
So as we wait for the government’s response to the Richard Review this National Apprenticeships Week, it is imperative that they ensure that apprenticeships are not only targeted to work for our young people, but that they provide decent, sustainable routes into employment across the UK, ensuring that our economy as a whole benefits just as much in the North as in the South.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.