Apprenticeships fail to attract employers

Nowhere near enough employers have yet proved willing, of their own accord, to be involved in apprenticeship provision.

While politicians of all parties are attracted by the idea of apprenticeships, their enthusiasm has not yet been shared by employers to anything like the required degree, suggest researchers from the ESRC-funded Centre on Skills, Knowledge and Organisational Performance (SKOPE)4.

Successive governments have proposed ever more ambitious targets for apprenticeship numbers. Indeed, while the Coalition government has abolished the targets established by the Leitch Review of Skills for 500,000 apprentices in learning by 2020 in the UK, it still has priorities including that at least one out of every five young people will be undertaking an Apprenticeship programme by 2020.

SKOPE researchers have found that demand from potential apprentices for training significantly outstrips the supply of places made available by employers by a wide margin. The Wolf Report (2011) suggests the figure is about 15 applicants for each apprenticeship place, and for some high-profile apprenticeship schemes, such as BT and Rolls Royce, the number of applicants per place is far higher.

Reports on the proportion of employers actively involved in the apprenticeship system vary, but best estimates lie between four and 13 per cent. The reasons are complex, say researchers, but range from employers favouring other routes to competitive advantage such as offshoring or outsourcing and the possibilities afforded by the single EU labour market to find well-trained, well-educated workers from the accession states.

Many of these problems are deep-seated and, say researchers, policymakers have tended to overlook this situation. “The lack of employer engagement has been a recipe for endless disappointment over the past 25 years or more, and yet signs of policymakers learning this lesson are hard to find,” say SKOPE researchers. Based on case study examples, research suggests that a starting point for government and employers to think about the development of expansive work environments for apprentice skill development is to consider quality over quantity, acknowledge learner status as well as worker status and to benchmark level 3 qualifications.

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