Government will miss apprentice target

Government plans to increase apprentice numbers by 2020 will fail according to training providers and businesses with training academies in England.  Many businesses say they would rather take on a migrant worker than an apprentice.

As 16 year olds prepare themselves for their GCSE results this week, research published today reveals that FE colleges and businesses believe they will struggle to recruit the numbers and quality of apprentices they need to sustain economic growth over the next five years. Education cuts, poor careers advice, and schools keeping pupils on to maintain funding, are all identified as contributing factors.

The survey, conducted by the Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI) found that the majority of training providers welcomed the Government’s ambition to increase apprenticeships to 3 million but feared other policies will make it impossible to achieve. The IMI represents the £152 billion a year retail motor industry, which needs 12,000 apprentices a year to stand still.

Seventy eight per cent of respondents said that careers advice, which has been provided in schools on an ad hoc basis since 2012, is at best unhelpful. Only ten per cent think advice offered by the National Careers Service has any impact on apprentice recruitment.

Anecdotal evidence collected as part of the survey points to a lack of understanding in schools of the technical and academic requirements of an apprenticeship.  Eighty four per cent said that most applicants do not have the required academic grades. Most businesses reported that the ‘employability’ of prospective trainees sent to them by schools was poor, many are saying they would rather employ migrant workers than take on an apprentice.

All respondents agreed that the current situation is set to get much worse now the education participation age has been raised to 18 in England.  It is not widely understood by parents or young people that this is not restricted to school, and apprentice trainers report that schools are hoarding students and withholding information about vocational training at 16.

IMI CEO Steve Nash said, ‘With funding for education set to be squeezed, employers and training providers in the motor industry are voicing fears that they will lose out in the race for the best learners. Schools will seek to keep as many ‘paying’ students in 6th form as possible. They need only to ration information about alternatives and the already small talent pool available to fill apprenticeship vacancies will be drained.’

‘The Government has pledged to increase the number of apprenticeships to 3 million by 2020, but with skills shortages starting to appear in every sector of the economy this looks like a conservative ambition. The leaving age problem raises serious questions over its ability to hit even this target without investing in a serious careers advice programme, which it is currently refusing to do.’

The Education Select Committee has flagged similar fears to those raised by apprentice trainers.  Recommendations to strengthen independent careers advice have been dismissed by the Government.