When the government announced it had commissioned an independent Review on Apprenticeships, led by entrepreneur Doug Richard, the general feeling was ‘not another Review' - the Holt Review was still due to be published and the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee was still undergoing its inquiry into Apprenticeships.
Fast-forward five months and here we are today with the publication of the Richard Review on Apprenticeships, and we are happy to report it is pretty impressive. In fact, we would go as far to say it is a true reflection of where manufacturers see the future of Apprenticeships.
In recent years Apprenticeships have been a numbers game with this year seeing the number of Apprenticeship starts hit the half a million mark. But along the way we seemed to have lost the brand and the focus on quality and this needs to be addressed.
We have also seen the Apprenticeship delivery market become dense and overcrowded, and whilst we have seen a surge in the number of providers knocking on employers' doors, what has been offered has not always met their needs with manufacturers reporting little improvements in the training market.
Today's Review and subsequent recommendations provides the right balance of the need to revive the key elements of what an Apprenticeship used to be and how we can maximise the opportunities of today and in the future.
The Review quite rightly covers a lot of ground, so we have focussed on what believe to be the key highlights – focusing on higher level skills, routing funding through employers and creating new industry standards.
The Review's conclusion of what ‘Level' constitutes an Apprenticeship has been widely anticipated. At first glance, one may assume Richard is suggesting that some existing Level 2 or below Apprenticeships should be redefined. But the real issue he is trying to tackle is ‘pre-employment training' being called an Apprenticeship. He, quite rightly then, suggests that such training is not an Apprenticeship and we need to be looking at other ways of defining this, such as a ‘traineeship'.
In some industries there may be a need for entry level jobs that do not require skills beyond level 2 and so Apprenticeships for such occupations at Level 2 will continue.
For manufacturers the future is increasingly focusing on R&D, developing more sophisticated products, improving processes and tapping into new markets – all of which require higher levels of skills likely to be at Level 3 and above.
The next focus is on funding, with Richard recommending it should be directly routed to the employer. Such a concept is not new, especially given the direction of travel of the Employer Ownership of Skills Pilot. But today's recommendation to drive Apprenticeship investment through the National Insurance or tax system goes one step further by offering a real solution to how we can give employers greater purchasing power and create a dynamic market in training where training providers are innovative and respond to employers' needs.
As we acknowledged in our Skills for Growth report, a reduction in national insurance contributions gives employers of all sizes the ability to draw down funding, to use with their own money, which will then drive further investment in Apprenticeships.
Today's Review is about the future and this model will ensure that funding remains stable and not subject to short-term political change.
The final highlight from today's Review is the creation of an industry standard that all employers can understand. A single standard that is owned by employers will drive up levels of ambition and ensure that qualifications are relevant to employers, which a recent EEF survey revealed was not yet the case.
Employers have an increasing appetite to input into the design of standards and qualifications and this has been recognised in this Review.
Today's Review has sent a positive message to the industry, and offers real recommendations that employers can relate to. As the report says everyone likes apprenticeships, but to meet the needs of an ever-changing economy we need to start raising our ambitions and we urge government to match Richard's ambitions.