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The Government has made a commitment to apprenticeships as the cornerstone of its employment and skills policy: a commitment which is set to continue for the remainder of this Parliament, if not beyond. Building on two decades of policies which have championed apprenticeships and vocational education, a new bar has now been set – 3 million new apprenticeships by 2020, to support young people into employment and to address the skills gaps that constrain and threaten the UK’s productivity.
To help deliver this, a series of sweeping changes to the apprenticeships system will be introduced over the next two years. The reforms aim to address some of the weaknesses in the current system – an apprenticeship levy will raise £3 billion per year by 2019/20 to help fund new places, and will give employers more of a stake in the apprenticeships system; new employer-designed standards aim to improve the quality of training; and a Digital Apprenticeship Service will be set up to help employers find the right training provider and to advertise vacancies.
Our new report out today, Delivering Change: Making apprenticeships work in cities, explores how this is likely to be experienced at a local level – by those who are involved in delivering apprenticeships on the frontline.
For the research, we interviewed local partners across the UK, and found that for those people who create, support, help to fund and provide training for apprenticeships every day – employers, local authorities, training providers, colleges, schools, and so on – there are already substantial challenges in delivering high quality apprenticeships that lead to sustainable jobs, that are appropriate for the local economy, and that deliver the skills that employers need. Part of the reason that these challenges exist at a local level is because the national system does not take into account the substantial variation in apprenticeships that exists between UK cities.
Some of these challenges are likely to be reduced as the national changes to the system come into play. But some may remain, and some may even get worse. And for local partners, this level of uncertainty compounds one of the most substantial challenges which they face in delivering apprenticeships – that national policy changes frequently and unpredictably, creating a big financial risk for the employers who are investing in a skilled workforce.
With these challenges in mind, the report sets out two key recommendations for national Government in recognising the role that local partners will play in delivering 3 million new apprenticeships by 2020.
First, the Government must do all it can to encourage and support the evaluation of the changing apprenticeship system, particularly the levy, in order to improve understanding of the impact these changes will have on quality and quantity, and awareness and behaviour in different places. And second, it should seek to provide timely, up-to-date and clear information on the changes in the apprenticeship system in order to help local partners to respond effectively.
Taking these steps and acknowledging the crucial role that local partners play in making apprenticeships work will be an important part of tackling the skills challenges in many parts of the country, and in helping to solve the UK’s productivity puzzle.
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