Latest Public Sector News

01.09.15

Apprenticeships to be ‘yet another hoop’ SMEs have to jump through

The new requirement for businesses bidding for government contracts to demonstrate a “clear commitment” to apprenticeships will add “red tape and bureaucracy to procurement opportunities”, the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) has warned.

Dr Adam Marshall, BCC’s executive director of policy and external affairs, noted that this “isn’t the way” to create more high quality apprenticeship places.

“Small and medium size businesses in particular would view this as yet another hoop they have to jump through in the already complex world of doing business with the public sector.

“Businesses up and down Britain agree that the best way to increase the number of apprenticeships is to focus relentlessly on their quality, and by ensuring that they are viewed as positively as academic qualifications by employers,” Marshall said.

The response comes after the government’s announcement on 21 August that “radical changes” would boost apprenticeships by three million places by 2020.

Part of this meant incorporating measures into the government’s own contracting activities. From today (1 September), departments and other public bodies must “consider the opportunity for apprenticeships and skills development in their contracting requirements”.

Changes apply to contracts with a full life value of £10m or more, lasting 12 months and above.

Businesses bidding for contracts will have to propose the number of apprenticeship places they expect to create, and this projection will be reviewed as part of the tender evaluation process.

The contracting authority will now take action if the supplier does not meet the newly-stated commitment.

According to the Financial Times, several employers fear the government’s “fixation” on creating apprenticeships will threaten quality in an attempt to increase numbers, doing “little to fix Britain’s skills shortages”.

Professor Alison Wolf, who chaired a government review into vocational education in 2011, told the Independent that the three million apprentices target was “a mad and artificial political target which risks undermining the reputation of apprenticeships”.

Between August 2014 and January 2015, the vast majority of new apprenticeships were at the ‘intermediate’ level, equating to five GCSE passes. The figure for ‘advanced’ apprenticeships was 92,700, equating to two A-level passes. But only 7,500 degree-level apprenticeships were started – even though government rhetoric on the subject often implies that most apprenticeships are of this highest and most technical category.

This is allowing lower-skilled jobs to be “rebranded” as apprenticeships across the catering, clerical and retail sectors, the paper reported.

Employers are also criticising the measure’s coexistence with £450m spending cuts to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, which funds several apprenticeships. 

Furthermore the government announced in August intentions to cut benefits to young adult claimants if they do not take up apprenticeships and jobs, as part of a new “no excuses” cross-government ‘earn or learn’ taskforce.

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