The employer role in creating ‘worthwhile and demanding’ apprenticeships

Written by
Sarah Wild

13 May 2019

13 May 2019 • by Sarah Wild

Apprenticeships can ease the skills shortage, but businesses must help to raise their consistency and quality.

To survive the skills shortage, UK employers must work more closely and collaboratively with government and training providers to help deliver a high-quality apprenticeship system that is fit for the world stage.

This is the key message of Making Apprenticeships Work  – A Reflection on Practicepublished in March by the City & Guilds Group and the Industry Skills Board. Input was received from a range of employers, including Royal Bank of Scotland, Heathrow, Hilton and Health Education England.

It builds on the findings of an earlier report (released in 2014, during apprenticeship reforms and consultation around apprentice-levy processes, which predicted a bright future for the role of work-based learning and the resurgence of the ‘apprenticeship model’ as a valid and robust training and accreditation solution across a broad spectrum of occupations.

Supporting this, employer feedback suggests significantly higher productivity among apprentice-trained staff and that apprentices are often promoted or progressed faster than other employees.

As Andy Smyth, chair of the Industry Skills Board, explains: “When employers take ownership of apprenticeships and use a consistent quality framework to shape their delivery and support mechanisms, they are able to gain real value as a result.

“Apprentices enjoy their programmes and go on to thrive by taking advantage of the opportunities ahead of them. Employers enjoy a host of benefits including improved performance and productivity outputs and a healthy and robust talent pipeline that brings fresh thinking to challenge the usual norms. Providers grow strong and sustainable relationships based on trust and the clear expectations set out in the quality framework, leading to increased scale and effectiveness of operations.

“We all need to invest more time and energy to ensure that all programmes are shaped with the highest standards of training, support and achievement in mind,” he adds.

To this end, the new report calls for actions to be undertaken to drive-up the quality of apprenticeships, enhance commitment from businesses and public sector managers, and widen access to apprenticeships. It makes nine key recommendations that should be taken by employers and other stakeholders to make apprenticeships work for all.

The nine key recommendations

  • Adopt and embed a common quality framework to drive inspections and regulations.
  • Review and rationalise focus and purpose of the standards.
  • Explore greater flexibility in shape and duration of apprenticeship programmes.
  • Ensure high quality in assessment plans and retain expert independent judgements.
  • Review and refocus meaningful measures for impact and success of the programme.
  • Increase promotion of apprenticeship opportunity in schools and recruitment channels.
  • Facilitate advance visibility of, and access to apprenticeship offers.
  • Conduct research into employer engagement and decision making regarding apprenticeships.
  • Perform an holistic review of funding across DfE budgets to focus on employability outcomes.

Actions for businesses

For employer groups, specific actions include advocating the use of new governance arrangements to drive up and monitor standards in a consistent way, and continuing to promote different mixes of training and learning models. This enhances employer choice and allow employers to take on more or less of the training and learning as suits their needs.

The report recommends that the government should work to reach the point where “apprenticeships are fully integrated into workforce recruitment and development and so become a normal entry route into all public-sector employment.”

It also calls for research to be conducted into employer engagement and decision making regarding apprenticeships, to understand the challenges and motives for employers who:

  • are unsure about becoming an employer provider: exactly what worries them?
  • are actively taking on apprentices – to understand the benefits they anticipate and raise
  • have written off the apprenticeship levy: why exactly is this?

Meanwhile, there is still a need for better promotion of apprenticeships in schools and through recruitment channels, so that school leavers are aware of the full wealth of opportunities available to them.

“Apprenticeships should be seen as a career pathway option like any other, sustainable and relevant in the long term,” stresses Kirstie Donnelly, Group Director at City & Guilds Group.  

Smyth concludes: “It is vital that improvements are made to the apprenticeships system in order to address the UK’s growing skills shortage. Employers, government and training providers have a responsibility to come together to ensure the high quality delivery of apprenticeships and to support their role in providing a key pathway for career progression and career change.”