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Support and regulation needed for high-quality apprenticeships

Support and regulation needed for high-quality apprenticeships

There could also soon be a quality mark for apprentice employers offered by Investors in People, the organisation has said

More regulation is required to ensure apprenticeships are high-quality, the education select committee has heard.

Kevin Rowan, head of organisation, services and skills at the Trade Union Congress (TUC), told the committee this morning that there were still too many apprentices paid below the minimum wage, and not enough employers were being prosecuted for breaching rules on apprentice pay. Pay and progression, he said, were clear indicators of quality.

“If we had these kind of numbers on the minimum wage or national living wage, people would be up in arms about it, but because it is apprenticeships, that doesn't happen,” he said, adding TUC figures showed only three per cent of employers not paying apprentices the apprentice minimum wage were prosecuted.

Mr Rowan also said: “There is no critical loop in terms of regulation, and also no critical loop in terms of advice and guidance.” He added a regulatory regime was needed, especially with apprenticeships among those parts of the labour market most commonly abused.

Employer-led system

However, Jane Gratton, head of business environment and skills policy at the British Chambers of Commerce, said there was recognition among businesses that they had a part to play when it comes to apprenticeships. “Most of the businesses have decided to pay above the minimum wage but there is a recognition that a trainee is less productive while they are in on – or off-the-job training.”

She said employers were "excited" to be shaping the new employer-led system, but were frustrated with the pace. “We would like to see a bit more pace. We have levy money to spend,” she told the committee.

Tim Thomas, director of employment and skills policy at manufacturer’s body EEF, said the organisation had long campaigned for quality measures to be introduced. He believed high-quality apprenticeships had to have a certain length, required investment from employers, and appropriate pay and progression opportunities. “We would not be expecting quality apprenticeships to be paid at the minimum-wage level.” Especially for young apprentices, there should also be an expectation for the employer to offer pastoral support, he said.

He added: “We have long called for the abolishing of the apprentice minimum wage – why not just pay them the age rate? That is something we could do to signal parity with other employees.”

Quality standard

Paul Devoy, chief executive of Investors in People, said many prospective apprentices, parents, stakeholders and even employers did not know what “good” looked like in terms of apprenticeship provision – and what support that required employers to offer to their apprentices.

He said there was a gap in the market for a quality mark like the one Investors in People has offered to high-performing employers. This would “give employers the recognition to meet that standard”, he said, adding:”I think there is a gap there that could send a signal.” Feedback from the Department for Education and the Institute for Apprenticeships had been positive, he said.

Article courtesy of TES (www.tes.com)

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