The CPD Standards Office investigates apprenticeship schemes in the UK, what employers can do to improve the quality and how accreditation can help raise training standards.

The annual National Apprenticeship Week 2016 (14th -18th March) was themed ‘An apprenticeship can take you anywhere’ and raised the awareness to employers that mainstream education is not the only route to a successful career for young people.

The government’s commitment is to deliver 3 million apprenticeships to the workforce by 2020 and make it the norm for young people to do an apprenticeship, university degree or both through a higher apprenticeship.

What are apprenticeships?

Apprenticeships are paid jobs that incorporate on-and-off-the-job training. A successful apprentice will qualify with a nationally recognised qualification on completion award called an ‘achievement’.

The provision of higher-quality apprenticeships scheme can be the answer to two issues facing employers and young people today:

  1. Employers, particularly in the technology sector, are experiencing large talent gaps and a shortage of skills. For growing companies, this is one of the key barriers to growth.
  2. School leavers have to choose between studying for a university degree which they see as an expensive option, or choosing to work in a demotivating and underpaid job.

Challenges and opportunities

HM Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw spoke on 17th March at the annual apprenticeship conference. He outlines a fundamental challenge fearing the sector does not give enough value to the apprentice, and there is a great need to improve the standards of training schemes, particularly so employers can realise the business benefits.

Sir Wishaw highlighted four challenges:

  1. Provide apprenticeships that are of the highest quality.
  2. Make sure apprenticeships address both local and national priorities.
  3. Train more young people than we do at the moment.
  4. Structure networks so local employers and training providers can work together on the curriculum, assessment and accreditation of apprenticeship programmes.

Drawing on the fourth challenge, the quality of apprentices training programmes must be continually monitored, as there is a danger of low-quality or inappropriate training being delivered.

Wilshaw continues: “The recruitment process, administration of the programme, identifying the right training provider, assessment process and mentoring and guidance” are all ways employers can improve apprenticeship schemes in their organisations.

The benefits for young people and employers

The benefit of apprenticeship opportunities for young people is that it provides an alternative route to what could be a long and successful career within the same organisation. However, Ofsted (2013) reported apprenticeships and vocational training were rarely promoted in schools.

The value of an apprenticeship is not as highly regarded as an A-level option, but this situation can change. Everyone should have the opportunity to lifelong learning and a more fulfilling career, and apprenticeships are a way forward for business.

National Apprenticeship Week highlighted employers leading the way in delivering apprenticeship schemes, including IBM.

Jenny Taylor, UK Graduate, Apprenticeship and Student Programme Manager at IBM, says: “Apprentices are a vibrant new channel of technical resource to fill the skills gap. Our industry faces a serious challenge in recruiting sufficient, high-quality employees; the prime impetus for starting our apprenticeship scheme, and it has proved a very effective policy.”

Apprentices can achieve the same career progression in a company with a scheme that is designed to a high standard and highlights: “They are very loyal employees with high retention rates.”

Designing apprenticeship schemes with CPD in mind

The government reports that in 2014/15, the most popular sector for apprenticeship schemes was Business, Administration and Law, accounting for 29% of all apprenticeship starts in England, closely followed by Health, Public Services & Care (26%). These sectors are highly regulated, and professionals must complete annual CPD records as it is important to maintain high standards of training so professionals stay fit to practice.

However, apprenticeship schemes should be of high quality across all sectors, and there is an increasing number of opportunities in retail, health and care sectors that provide poor standards of training.

Amanda Rosewarne, Director of CPD Accreditation and Research at The CPD Standards Office, comments: “It is of utmost importance that training offered on apprenticeship schemes is of a high standard so it is a win-win situation for the young employee and employer. Now is the time to connect with employers and see how accredited training providers can work with them to develop schemes that are engaging for young people.”

Once accredited, training providers can approach employers to deliver a programme that has a high-quality badge of approval that has gone through an independent third-party assessment process.

It is time to start improving the quality of apprenticeship schemes on offer, and there are numerous benefits for doing so, especially for the employer in terms of retention and loyalty. Trainers looking to develop apprenticeship training programmes should start working with employers to find out what they need and how to engage young motivated apprentices.


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