This National Apprenticeship Week, let's get Apprenticeship reform right

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Six in ten manufacturers had a manufacturing or engineering Apprentice start in their company over the past 12 months.

This statistic, released during National Apprenticeship Week comes from EEF's latest skills survey and highlights the important role Apprenticeships play in refreshing the life blood of industry and the growing number of opportunities becoming available.

Across England there were 66,410 manufacturing and engineering apprenticeship starts in 2012/13. This represents about 13% of all starts. But it's not just a numbers game – the quality of apprenticeship candidates and the training schemes they follow are in reality more important than the quantity enrolled.

Whilst it can be difficult to define quality it might be useful to look at duration and thoroughness of training, pay while undertaking an apprenticeship, and projected career progression. Manufacturers score highly in all these categories:

Three-quarters report that their Apprenticeship programmes last up to four years

The average pay for an engineering apprentice being £7.03 per hour

Three-quarters of all apprentices taken on by EEF members are offered permanent employment upon completion of their training.

Whilst our figures clearly show that many manufacturers are offering high quality Apprenticeships, the challenge is to encourage even more businesses to start offering Apprenticeships, and for those that already do, to increase the number of Apprenticeships on offer, particularly those at a higher level.

One of the major challenges manufacturers have faced has been accessing the provision their business needs. Indeed only one in five companies agree it is easier now to find an appropriate training provider and suitable course now than in previous years.

Over the past 12 months, there have been encouraging measures by the government to reform the Apprenticeship training landscape so that it better meets the demand of industry, including a commitment to radically overhaul the current funding model.

Manufacturers have long been calling for a revolution in how Apprenticeships are funded, and the announcement to route Apprenticeship funding through employers at the last Autumn Statement demonstrated that the priorities of industry have been understood.

Placing funding in the hands of employers will create a truly responsive, relevant training system that delivers high quality apprenticeships.

Yesterday the Government published its Technical Consultation on Funding Reform, which advocates two possible options – a PAYE model or an Apprenticeship Credit Model (the detail of which we won't go into now). Both will have their advantages and disadvantages, and we will be hosting workshops with our members to identify these and champion a model which is most suited to our members. (And we will be keeping you updated on our blog!)

Whilst this commitment has sent a positive message to industry, there still remain a number of questions left unanswered. There is, for example, still no indication on how training costs will be impacted by the funding reforms. Whilst we know there will be a compulsory employer cash contribution, we still don't know how much.

It is of upmost importance to provide clarity on this as manufacturer required certainty and stability to make significant investments in skills.

Apprenticeship funding reform must also look closely at the different rates of support available for different qualifications, and what will soon become Apprenticeship standards. Currently, industry leaders are developing new Apprenticeship standards, but the government has yet to confirm whether they will be responsible for costing their delivering. We see employers as best placed to cost this, with previous estimates for Apprenticeship delivering being inaccurate, with many frameworks subsidising others, and the subsequent rise of what were seen as ‘free' Apprenticeships.

Looking ahead, two-thirds of EEF members plan to recruit a manufacturing and engineering apprentice in the next 12 months

But if employers are to continue to offer such forms of training and opportunities, they need the right government support to do so. So this National Apprenticeship Week our call to Government is to build an Apprenticeship training system that is robust and long-lasting and resistant to the constant chop and change we have seen in the past.

And if it takes a little bit of extra time to get it right...then so be it!

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Head of Education & Skills Policy

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