My search for the definition of an Apprentice continues...

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The part when you learn a little bit about me...

When the Great British Bake Off ended, Nadiya was crowned the winner (we all applauded), Mary Berry got emotional (some of us shed a tear) and then the realisation it was all over set in.

My sister – who had made a habit of coming to mine on a Wednesday night for a Bake Off/take-away evening - turned to me and said: “What are we going to watch now?” I of course answered “The Apprentice!”

As soon as the words left my mouth, the cogs in my head started turning. Having spent so much of my working day in the past 18 months or so defining and discussing apprenticeships, I wondered whether ‘The Apprentice’ was actually an Apprentice and whether an Apprenticeship was actually part of the programme.

Let’s remember an Apprenticeship is substantial training that leads to a job…

My search for the definition of an Apprentice continues...

Well, over on the BBC tonight, Lord Sugar will no longer be looking for his next Apprentice, but in fact his next ‘Business Partner’ but I guess ‘The Business Partner’ doesn’t have quite the same effect, which it flashed up on our screen.

An ‘Apprentice’ and/or ‘Business Partner’ in Lord Sugar’s eye then is normally someone that can sell something from nothing, create an advertising campaign and buy random goods from somewhere else in the world for the cheapest price. I wonder if there’s a Trailblazer out there turning those competences into a new standard?

Now, the legal definition of an ‘Apprentice’ is actually quite difficult to find. On the guidance for calculating the national minimum wage, an ‘apprentice’ which would therefore be eligible for the Apprentice Rate, is defined as a learner that is currently on a government approved apprenticeship (depending on whether in England, Scotland, Wales or Nothern Ireland).  The definition is then expanded to include workers engaged under a contract of apprenticeship

Now delve into the recent technical consultation on draft regulations for implementing the abolition of NICs for apprentices aged 25 and under and we find that this will include"government recognised apprenticeships in the UK, i.e. those that follow government arranges/frameworks" It will exclude " apprenticeships which do not follow government approved frameworks , also know as common law apprenticeships".

How this will then work when existing frameworks all move to new standards, which will be 'approved' by employers is still yet to be confirmed it seems.

But for now we can conclude that any apprentice, whether on government recognised framework/arrangement/standard or common law apprenticeship is to be paid the apprentice rate, however if you want to be eligible for the NICs abolition, then as an employer you need to ensure it's a government approved programme.

 Confusing? Welcome to my world of skills policy!

Sir Michael Wilshaw’s apprenticeship vs Lord Sugar’s Apprenticeship

Tomorrow, Sir Michael Wilshaw, Chief of Oftsed will deliver a speech, accompanied by what we expect to be quite a damning report on devaluing of the term apprenticeship.

While the report, and the speech, is still under wraps, the media, including The Telegraph, had already picked up some of Oftsed’s commentary on this subject:

“The growth in the number of apprenticeships over the last eight years has diluted their quality, with many low-skilled jobs being classed as apprenticeships and used to accredit the established skills of people who have been in a job for some time.”

Now, we’ve blogged previously on concerns that the Government is becoming too fixated on quantity and not focusing enough on quality. Arguably quality is difficult to define, but we think there are some factors that could be considered:

  • Length of apprenticeship

  • Level of apprenticeship

  • Career prospects – likely to be influenced by:

    - Long-term employment

    - Opportunities for career progression

    - Salary levels

In the Boardroom, who’s Apprenticeships would deemed to be high-quality?

Lord Sugar’s?

  • I believe in the early days of the Apprentice (when the winner actually became an Apprentice/employee) would definitely be given at least a year…so that meets the government’s minimum criteria.

  • I’m pretty certain they were paid more than £3.30 per hour.

  • Career progression – possibly? This where are they now article gives a little more info.

Ok so it meets some of the criteria but is it really an Apprenticeship?

EEF members?

  • Three-quarters say their apprenticeships last up to 4 years

  • Three-quarters say ALL their apprentices stay with them upon completion of their training

  • An increasing focus on Level 3 and above

  • The average basic pay for an engineering apprentice is £6.50 per hour

You’re Fired! Not manufacturers

If manufacturers were in Lord Sugar’s Boardroom fighting to be the best for delivering Apprenticeships, then they would eat the other candidates for breakfasts (sounds like I’m a candidate on the Apprentice now!). I think it’s fair to say our members would not be on the receiving end of the infamous ‘You’re Fired!’

So should I start boycotting The Apprentice?

I await to see what Sir Michael says tomorrow. It’s likely that manufacturing as an industry will agree with the content of the report – too much sell ‘em high stack up cheap, and the peaks and troughs of apprenticeship starts can so easily be aligned to policy changes - e.g. Train to Gain ends – Apprenticeship starts rocket. (See Chart below)

As a Policy Adviser working on apprenticeships policy, and promoting quality apprenticeships, some might argue I shouldn’t really watch the BBC’s Apprentice, but any programme that has candidates saying things like….

“I regret not becoming a scientist so I could clone myself and be more successful in half the time.”

….is un-missable TV for me, so I’ll still be tuning in….



Head of Education & Skills Policy

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