Drive to put training ‘in employers’ hands’

The apprenticeship system should be radically redesigned so that employers are paid by the state to buy whatever training they think works best, according to a government-commissioned review.

Doug Richard, a technology entrepreneur, proposes that the budget for training “must lie firmly in the hands of employers”. Under the current system, in which nearly half a million learners started training last year, subsidies for training are paid directly to any external training providers.

However, to ensure value for money, employers should only be allowed to buy from approved suppliers and would only receive money if their apprentices passed an external examination at the end of their training, he said.

A system underpinned by a final examination would generate confidence, said Mr Richard. “A university degree is valued in no small part because it is a degree. We infer from its award that the student met and exceeded a clear standard. The same is not true for apprenticeships. That must change.”

The proposals, if adopted, would mark a change of direction for the government. John Hayes, who was until recently skills minister, favoured raising standards by adjusting the detailed “frameworks” that specify what employers must offer to apprentices and what type of training they should undertake.

The government is already trialling giving employers the subsidies directly, although not via the tax or national insurance systems, as Mr Richard proposes. This model would help to increase employers’ awareness of the scheme, he said.

The report also suggests focusing on those at the start of careers in areas requiring technical training. Other sorts of training should be delivered by other policy mechanisms he said. “Training to improve the skills of someone who has been in their job a long time, or is not yet ready to commence a job, are vital . . . But they require different models,” he added.

Matthew Hancock, the new skills minister, said: “The recommendations set out clear principles for bringing all apprenticeships up to the standard of the very best. We welcome the challenge for us, for employers and for apprentices and potential apprentices.”

The EEF manufacturers’ association welcomed the report. “Government must now respond positively and implement its recommendations quickly,” said Steve Radley, director of policy. “The challenges we face in the coming decades are enormous and only a revolution in ambitions and approach to apprenticeships will ensure that we meet them.”

The report comes a day before Ofsted, the education inspectorate, is expected to criticise standards in further education colleges, the backbone of the English technical and vocational education system.

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