The House of Commons PAC (Public Accounts Committee) has made a number of recommendations for the apprenticeship programme as part of strongly critical feedback. The Chair for PAC, MP Meg Hillier, explained that the programme has led to a drop in the number of apprenticeships in disadvantaged areas. There has been a focus more recently on placements at higher levels for larger employers.
Some employers were found to be using the funds for an apprenticeship towards professional or managerial training, which the companies would otherwise have paid for. The members of the PAC noted that this use of funds was not as intended or indeed the best use in their opinion.
The recommendations laid out by MPs are intended to improve the apprenticeship programme and include:
- Ensuring that people from more disadvantaged communities or with lower skill levels are included.
- The Department for Education (DfE) should evaluate whether school leavers or the lower skilled have access to sufficient level 2 programmes to commence an apprenticeship without difficulty.
- This assessment and any consequential action points should be reported in the next six months back to the committee.
The PAC suggested that the DfE should clarify and make public what sort of improvement to the skills index level it hopes to achieve via apprenticeships, both over the long and short term so that the contribution of the apprenticeship programme to productivity in the UK can be assessed.
The discrepancy between smaller employers and larger ones benefiting from the apprenticeship programme should be addressed by the DfE. This requires communication as to how smaller employers will fully benefit and how this will be ensured. This may require protecting the funding for employers not paying a levy and potentially using levy funds that have expired to target particular areas requiring the development of skills.
Other recommendations focused on diversity targets, with the DfE being urged to extend these to cover people with disabilities or learning difficulties and apprentices from other underrepresented groups and ethnicities. STEM apprenticeships were considered, with the aim being to increase the number of women accessing these. In addition, there was a need identified with the training providers to improve standards in response to the findings from Ofsted in 2017/18 which indicated that a third of providers required improvement or were inadequate.
The numbers of apprentices have continued to fall below expectations with the Government expected to miss the target of three million apprentices starting by March 2020. The budget has been underspent by 20%, further demonstrating that little progress has been made. Hillier believes that the DfE urgently needs to update and realign the apprenticeship programme so it meets the needs of the population and benefits those for whom it was intended.
Anne Milton, the Minister for Apprenticeships and skills acknowledged that there is work to be done but was keen to outline the positives of the scheme and is actively considering the recommendations from the PAC.
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