Apprenticeships: Quantity, not quality

Branwen Jeffreys
Education Editor

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image captionApprenticeships in engineering and manufacturing are highly sought after

You're hired! Or maybe not - if your apprenticeship provides such poor training that you don't end up with skills you need to get a job with decent pay.

This week two more reports - from the IPPR and Policy Exchange - have added to the growing pile warning that quality is being overlooked in the rush to create more chances for young adults to learn skills while they earn.

The promise to get three million more people starting apprenticeships by 2020 was in the Conservative manifesto, and remains just as important under Theresa May as it was under David Cameron.

And you can't say that about some other policies.

Mrs May has promised an industrial strategy - a phrase not heard around Whitehall for many a decade.

Better technical training and education is likely to be a big part of that - not least because the plans for more grammar schools open the government to the accusation of being elitist.

Everyone knows the very best apprenticeships equip you with high quality skills.

That's why so many young people apply for some of the top chances to train with big engineering or manufacturing companies.

But in its report, Policy Exchange - a think tank seen as close to the current government - warns £500m will be wasted every year up to 2020 on apprenticeships that don't lead to a truly skilled job.

It captures the overgrown forest of apprenticeships, where lots of low level shrubby growth has raced to fill the demand created by government policy in recent years.

That's unless the government commits to quality being as important as the number of apprenticeships, which it might - although to be meaningful that would have to be quite a specific quality threshold.

The Department for Education insists quality is one of its key concerns and from next April the new Institute for Apprenticeships, an independent body led by employers, will be charged with approving standards.

Perhaps it's no coincidence that another slice of funding for degree-level apprenticeships has also just been announced.

They do represent the level of skill businesses say they need.

But that target of creating three million new apprenticeships is still troubling.

In the end, the political priority will be to tick that number box because it can be measured.

Making sure those new apprentices are really getting a decent start to their working life will be much, much harder to deliver.

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