Apprenticeships: Policy context

As part of a wider drive to improve the status of vocational training, successive governments in recent years have developed policies to boost the number and quality of apprenticeship places.

After years in the policy backwaters, the 2012 Richard Review made a series of recommendations for reinvigorating apprenticeships. The government's response the following year outlined how the review reforms would be delivered and set an ambitious target to create three million apprenticeships by 2020.

Latest Department for Education statistics shows that at the end of 2017 the government was half way towards hitting this target. However, not all of the 1.5 million new apprentices are young people - DfE analysis shows that around one in four apprenticeships are filled by 16- to 18-year-olds.

The government introduced higher apprenticeships in 2015 to encourage more young people to consider apprenticeships as an alternative to university - and the following year published the Post-16 Skills Plan, which set out a strategy to improve the quality of training and expand the range of apprenticeships.

However, the introduction in April 2017 of the apprenticeship levy - essentially a tax on employers with an annual wage bill exceeding £3 million - has seen a sharp fall in the number of placements created. DfE figures show the number of new apprenticeship starts was 24 per cent lower in 2017/18 than the year before.

Despite this, some councils are working hard to engage public and private sector employers in their areas to create more apprenticeship opportunities for local school leavers (see Sheffield and Stockport practice examples), while charities are supporting disadvantaged young people to use apprenticeships as a stepping stone towards a better future (see CXK and Drive Forward Foundation practice examples).

Meanwhile, professional and representative bodies across the children and young people's sector are developing new apprenticeship schemes as a way of increasing the number of people considering careers in the sector, and in so doing tackling a shortage of workers.

Here, experts explain how apprenticeships are being used across different disciplines and professions in the children and young people's sector, and offer advice for how employers can increase training opportunities for disadvantaged young people.

Children's services view

By Rachael Wardell, director of children, schools and families, London borough of Merton, and workforce development committee chair, the Association of Directors of Children's Services

"A series of skills and training reforms were brought in by the government following the Richard Review in 2012. ‘Trailblazers' were sought to design new apprenticeship standards, the apprenticeship levy was introduced, and an ambitious target of creating three million apprenticeships by 2020 was established.

Some policy tensions and disincentives have emerged over time which have impacted on this goal. At an individual level, a family's child benefit payment can be impacted by a young person taking up an apprenticeship and at an organisational level, larger employers, such as schools, are charged the levy regardless of whether the training packages which meet their needs are on offer.

The Department for Education has developed apprenticeship routes into social work and teaching. Other areas of work have sadly not received the same focus or level of investment to date. We have been calling on the DfE to widen their focus for some time; the wider workforce in children's services is diverse and their work frequently undervalued.

Over the last four or five years, the association has been involved in a trailblazer developing four new apprenticeship standards, which I am pleased to report have recently gone live. A whole host of employers have been involved in this work, including dozens of local authorities, NHS trusts and placement providers. These new qualifications seek to boost the skills of the existing workforce as well as attract new recruits looking for a rewarding career.

The children, young people and families' practitioner/manager and the residential childcare practitioner/manager apprenticeships are aimed at staff working in vital early help, family support and residential care roles. The association would welcome closer working with the government to develop other qualifications; a personal adviser apprenticeship following the expansion of support for care leavers under the Children and Social Work Act 2017 seems like a helpful next step. Care experienced adults could make a vital contribution here too.

There remains a mismatch between the apprenticeships on offer and future skills needs. Health and social care, engineering, digital communications and distribution are all areas of future growth but provision remains weighted towards lower skilled and paid roles. Too many people still perceive vocational routes as the poor relation to more academic routes, a misconception that is reinforced, to some extent, by the DfE's education reforms which prioritise academic attainment above all else thus undermining the apprenticeship agenda. According to the government's own data, apprenticeship starts were down 28 per cent in 2017/18.

Care leavers are now eligible for a bursary to take up an apprenticeship. This is a welcome development, and the education select committee recently suggested eligibility could be broadened to help other vulnerable groups access training and that levy funds could be used to this end. We would agree - this could support the ongoing drive for greater social mobility."

Apprenticeship provider view

By Janet King, senior childcare specialist, Cache

"Once held as a position of immense pride during the 1950s and 60s, apprenticeships have suffered greatly over time. Vocational study lost popularity for learners and parents as apprenticeships became associated with second class education, taken when choice had become limited or where educational attainment appeared lacking. Skills-based learning was depicted as something to be studied when further learning was not an option. Public trust in vocational educational as a worthy first-class choice was threatened and the number of learners opting to study for vocational education dropped dramatically with parental aspirations shifting completely.

The influence of educational discourse to shape young people's aspirations and choices is powerful. The push for a graduate-led society has seriously threatened the skilled workforce and left many graduates chasing jobs, not working in their chosen careers and finding themselves in debt.

This journey has contributed to the Skills Plan, which promises a skills revolution. A tremendous effort has been made by the Department for Education to showcase the apprenticeship route as equitable in academic rigour to A-level qualifications. In addition, the expected level of skills-based competence has remained as a constant feature for apprenticeship based training.

Cache has been creating successful childcare qualifications since 1945. With the launch of a new skills revolution, we are determined to ensure high-quality practical training that is appreciated and recognised by employers and universities as gold standard. In order to provide for apprenticeship study, Cache will ensure that qualifications mandated within a Standard for Apprenticeships are appropriately demanding in both knowledge and skills.

Resources to prepare learners for end-point assessment (EPA) - introduced to create objective assessment opportunities to the apprenticeship - will also be prepared to support learners, employers and training providers alike. EPA is one of the most significant apprenticeship reforms in recent times and stems from the 2012 government-commissioned Richard Review into apprenticeships. The findings called for an end to continuous assessment in favour of an external assessment that more accurately reflected a learner's capabilities and readiness for a particular role.

Cache works with employers and other stakeholders to ensure that qualifications are representative of employer need, suitable for progression to higher level study and appeal to the apprentice. We supported the sector in creating career and occupational maps which extend interest and illustrate the wide range of diverse occupations that can be part of a learner's vocational career.

Working in the early years sector is a professional occupation that should be complemented with opportunities for continuing professional development (CPD). Cache have introduced an alumni platform which hosts online professional development programmes as well as a wide range of regulated qualifications for CPD. In order to raise an awareness of the apprenticeship in early years, Cache continues to work to influence policy, promote the gender balance and support the workforce for improved child and family outcomes.

Cache is also able to offer the Level 3 diploma in residential childcare, a named qualification for the Level 4 apprenticeship for children, young people and families, and Level 5 qualifications for advanced apprenticeships in this field of work. Our suite of supporting teaching and learning qualifications has been recently revised and the Level 3 diploma in teaching and learning is mapped to the standard.

Cache is committed to further developments in the field of playwork, childcare and education and will continue to strive to meet the needs of the sector and the children, young people and families accessing these services.

We hope the renewed attention around apprenticeships long continues. The momentum that has been created with the introduction of the apprenticeship levy and the switch to EPA signifies a positive shift in attitudes to apprenticeships and skills-based training, a shift that needs to be nurtured to ensure that it is here to stay.

The childcare sector is currently in the midst of a recruitment crisis and has a workforce that is less qualified than ever before. It is therefore essential that more is done to continue to raise the profile of vocational education as a viable route to employment. In addition, the sector must continue to work together to ensure childcare is perceived as an aspirational career choice for young people."

Employer and trainer view

By Mark Dawe, chief executive, the Association of Employment and Learning Providers

"With the apprenticeship reforms being promoted as employer-led, we sometimes need to remind ourselves that apprenticeships are actually a cornerstone of social mobility for over half a million people a year. Young people in rural and urban areas depend on them to give them a great start in the world of work, while the cost of going to university means that many high-ability individuals are now also choosing apprenticeships to earn while they learn without the worries of student debt.

However, the programme's official statistics confirm that the reforms of the last two years have let down young people's aspirations and the thousands of small or medium-sized enterprise employers who were willing to support them. Total apprenticeship starts were 25,200 in July 2018, a 43 per cent drop on the same month two years ago. In 2017/18, apprenticeship opportunities at starter level were 38 per cent lower than the previous year while starts for young people are now almost a quarter less than before the start of the apprenticeship levy.

At the core of the reforms has been the levy on large employers, which AELP strongly supports. But its introduction has been mishandled with young people in disadvantaged areas in particular finding opportunities limited.

Despite the monthly figures providing ample evidence that things were going wrong, ministers seemed reluctant to act. A recent report by the education select committee opened up a shaft of light because MPs adopted all seven of AELP's key recommendations as the committee's own, including the addressing of two major barriers to reversing the disastrous fall in apprenticeship starts.

The first barrier is a requirement on smaller businesses to make a financial contribution to the cost of apprenticeship training even though employers already pay the apprentice's wages and incur other programme costs. The Chancellor used his autumn budget to announce a halving of the contribution which should make a tangible difference although we wait for a start date. Second, the committee agreed with us that the government should flexibly apply a new rule that requires every apprentice at whatever level to undertake 20 per cent of their training off the job in paid working hours. This rule, which offers no guarantee of quality learning, has discouraged many employers from offering apprenticeships and it needs to be changed as a matter of urgency.

If more schools get better at letting employers and training providers in to talk to pupils about apprenticeships, traineeships and technical education options, as the law requires them to, the prospects for young people should improve."

Third sector view

By Chris Stoker-Jones, director of vocational training, Catch22

"Apprenticeships should be the perfect career pathway for young people facing barriers to work. They are supportive, and run at a pace that suits the young person move directly into a job. But time and again, we see that the young people who could benefit most from an apprenticeship are those least likely to take them up.

We know the young people who have immense potential, might need a little extra support to get into work. Care leavers, people with convictions, those with disabilities, single parents and looked-after young people all face additional barriers to work based on complex personal contexts.

This diversity matters, and it hugely benefits organisations. The government campaign #See Potential reports that businesses who recruit from diverse backgrounds have higher staff retention rates, lower absenteeism, boost their corporate reputation and solve skills shortages.

Research Catch22 carried out with The Children's Society suggests that 40 per cent of care leavers aged between 19 and 21 are not in education, employment or training (Neet), compared with 14 per cent nationally. We spoke to care leavers themselves about why they don't apply for apprenticeships; the main reason was low wages.

At just £3.70, the apprenticeship minimum wage can be impossible to live on without parental support. Apprentices are often worse off than if they were on benefits. The additional cost of clothes and transport can reduce the incentive to engage in a programme. At Catch22 we advocate paying the national living wage to apprentices. Paying our own apprentices the living wage means we can recruit the best, and retain and nurture that talent.

But to make sure apprenticeships are inclusive, employers need to commit to more open recruitment and selection processes such as whether minimum qualification requirements are necessary for the role, using clearer language in job adverts and only asking for details of criminal convictions at shortlisting.

Personal and psychological contexts can also represent a practical and psychological barrier to accessing employment. We can't assume that all young people are going to be work-ready for an apprenticeship; they often need tailored and intensive support before, during and after finding employment.

The key to a successful and inclusive apprenticeship programme is working closely with the employer and with the learner, tailoring the programme to their needs. For example, the AA promotes a fantastic mentoring system in which line managers are given time and space to support learners, and the business gives the learners freedom to study and seek practical and career guidance.

Apprenticeships should not be seen as a form of cheap labour; they are a way of making the workforce more diverse, they bring new skill sets, different ways of thinking, creativity and they challenge the status quo."


By Abbee McLatchie, practice development manager, National Youth Agency

Youth work has always been a profession that requires as much "on the job" training as "off the job". The skillset and value base of an effective youth worker requires a combination of extensive practice experience and reflective, developmental supervision with appropriately qualified practitioners.

MPs from all parties have shown support for a reinvigorated national youth work offer. The Youth Work Covenant is gaining traction too, and we are hopeful that it will form part of a new national picture for statutory provision, supported by partners in the voluntary sector. Youth work is also finding its way into non-traditional environments - hospital emergency departments, schools, prisons, social care teams - demonstrating the transformative power this profession has for young people and their lives.

While funding for programmes and people will continue to be an issue, there are many creative approaches to celebrate. One of these is the development of the youth work apprenticeship standards. The National Youth Agency is developing a Level 6 integrated degree apprenticeship for youth work. Professionals and organisations from across youth work provision have come together to draw up a set of standards for this, which will be published before the end of 2018 - once approved by the Institute of Apprenticeships.

The availability of the apprenticeship levy makes this a professional development opportunity for many local authorities, and several have already expressed interest to help grow youth work in their localities.

Next year will see the development of new standards for Level 3 youth work apprenticeships. The co-investment model offered by government is a welcome source of much-needed funding for these programmes for smaller organisations, particularly those within the voluntary sector.

There is a political will and invigorated sector-wide enthusiasm for youth work. This is bringing a new focus to skills development at all levels, and apprenticeships are set to be an integral part of that.


By Mark Riddell, national implementation adviser for care leavers, DfE

The government wants care leavers to be better prepared and supported to live independently, and one way of achieving that is to create more opportunities for them to succeed through the Care Leaver Covenant.

Launched in October 2018, the covenant enables private, public and voluntary sector organisations to support care leavers to gain the skills and support they need for independence. Among the 50 signatory organisations already featured on the Care Leaver Covenant app, several have committed to providing work related opportunities. These include PGL, Poundland, Core Assets, the Greater London Authority and the Office for Students.

There is already extra funding - the care leaver levy worth £1,000 - for employers and training providers who recruit care leaver apprentices. In addition, there is a £1,000 bursary for care leavers, which goes direct to the young person to help with the transition into work. That provides a good incentive for businesses across the country to sign the covenant and commit to giving care leavers a helping hand into the workplace through offering them an apprenticeship.

All government departments are covenant signatories and between them have offered over 100 opportunities to care leavers in 2019 to benefit from a 12-month paid internship in the civil service. There's the chance of a permanent job at the end.

Local authority commitment

Local authorities can do their bit too. Ringfencing apprenticeships for care leavers is a tangible way for local authorities to demonstrate their commitment to supporting care leavers as their corporate parent.

But the covenant is about much more than just offering work opportunities. The government also wants universities and further education colleges to use signing the covenant as a way to strengthen their support offer to care leavers, and for businesses to think about how they can encourage their staff to become mentors to care leavers, or offer them discounted goods and services.

We believe the voluntary sector has an important role to play too, both through offering work opportunities and working directly with care leavers to improve their confidence and resilience.


Apprenticeship inquiry, education select committee, October 2018

Skills Plan, DfE, July 2016

English Apprenticeships: Our 2020 vision, DfE, 2015

Future of Apprenticeships in England: Next Steps, DfE, 2013

Richard Review, DfE, 2012


This article is part of CYP Now's Apprenticeships Special Report. Click here for more

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