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The lowdown on the new apprentice levy: quantity over quality?

MPs have given a somewhat scathing review of the government's apprenticeship levy scheme that came into force

MPs have classed the levy and other flagship apprenticeship policies as lacking focus and unlikely to be the solution required to fill the widening skill gaps within the British economy.

The levy focuses on funding apprentice training fees and giving the employer control over this funding in return for a stake of 0.5 per cent of their annual wage bill; however, some MPs warn that simply encouraging participation is not enough and could lead to a ‘quantity over quality’ approach for many businesses.

Another of the government’s key aims is to secure three million apprenticeship schemes in the country by 2020. Once again, experts have expressed concern that simply upping the numbers is not focusing on the areas of the economy in which training is desperately needed and may result in lower-quality training and future job prospects for apprentices.

The committee also spoke out against ‘unscrupulous’ employers who may use apprentices as a form of cheap labour rather than concentrating on developing their skills to start them off on a fulfilling and relevant career path. Simply dishing out funding with no monitoring may mean that certain standards are not adhered to; ultimately, apprentices could be taken advantage of and left disadvantaged by the scheme. If the levy was restructured by sector or region, this would enhance the quality and relevance of apprenticeship schemes while simultaneously addressing areas in which skill gaps exist.

MPs also called for schools to start promoting the alternative options to college and university and suggested that annual reports should be carried out to address regional shortages in certain sectors. It was also suggested that Ofqual should monitor schemes to ensure the correct standards are met and that the apprentices themselves should receive more support in terms of finances, such as bursaries and reduced public transport costs.

Ultimately, the government’s aims could be beneficial to apprentices and businesses alike; however, the focus on solely getting ‘scores on the doors’ seems haphazard and ineffective in terms of the service, future goals offered to the apprentice themselves, and – on a bigger scale – targeting certain sectors within the economy that are drastically lacking in new blood. This, after all, is the whole point of apprentice schemes.

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