As manufacturing firms and trainers are marking National Apprenticeship Week by celebrating the UK's most promising young engineering talents, a damning report has questioned whether the Government's Apprenticeship Levy provides value for money.
The Apprenticeships Programme – NAO report by the National Audit Office highlighted deficiencies in the Government's Apprenticeship Levy – one of the main drivers of training policy.
It has questioned whether the levy provides value for money, pointing out that fewer than 10% of eligible employers had accessed the scheme. The NAO also criticised unambitious targets to attract ethnic minority candidates, failure to prove a positive impact on productivity, plus widespread poor assessment and lack of quality training.
The NAO questioned the financial viability of the scheme, saying the Government had hugely underestimated apprenticeship costs.
Head of education and skills policy for Make UK (formerly the EEF) Verity Davidge said it “confirms what industry already knows; the apprenticeship levy is not working“.
“Manufacturers have always been true champions of apprenticeships but the government's reforms have left many deeply frustrated. With one in ten manufacturers actively delaying or cancelling apprenticeships because of the Levy and 95% saying the Apprenticeship Levy must be changed it's no wonder that starts have taken a nose dive.”
She added that there had been an increasing shortfall in technician level roles which had continued since the introduction of the levy. Combined with the changes in the labour market prompted by Brexit it would have “a hugely detrimental effect”, she warned.
“Government needs to stop tweaking around the edges and use its current Review to really listen to employers and make radical change and make it quickly. With an ever more uncertain Brexit on the horizon, we cannot afford to wait around to see if the programme will improve on its own.”
Demand for highly skilled STEM workers is expected to increase massively over the next decade. Further concerns of labour shortage post-Brexit has fuelled interest in increasing productivity through automation and training.
National Apprenticeship Week, which runs from 4-8 March 2019, is coordinated by the National Apprenticeship Service and designed to raise awareness of training and its impact on the economy.
Despite industry concerns reflected in the NAO report, manufacturers and engineering firms have been putting the spotlight on outstanding apprentices this week.
In Southampton, teen Katie Hopper scored a first when she won a six-year higher level degree apprenticeship with Associated British Ports.
The 16-year-old who attends Salisbury University Technical College was the only female to apply among hundreds of applicants.
Principal Joe Mulligan said it was unheard of for a 16-year-old to be offered a higher level degree apprenticeship. And with females making up less than 10% of British engineers, her success was especially noteworthy.
“I am ecstatic of getting this far especially for my age, it is a dream,” said Hopper. “I also want to slowly and steadily promote women in engineering.”
Meanwhile Jack Chapman, an embedded electronic engineering apprentice at Renishaw, has been awarded a prestigious Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) Horizons Bursary, with support from The Engineers Trust.
The apprenticeship wasn’t easy but it was worth it, it has given me a real chance in life
Brenton Cummings, apprentice, British Steel
Renishaw education outreach officer Rebecca Bound, commented: “Renishaw has a 40-year track-record of providing apprentices with the opportunities they need to become successful engineers.
“Gareth Hankins, the director of group manufacturing services, started here as an apprentice at age 16.”
British Steel was celebrating after 15 of its apprentices this week became the first to achieve the ‘Maintenance and Operations Engineering Technician’ (MOET) standard delivered by North Lindsey College and end-point assessed by the Energy & Utilities Independent Assessment Service (EUIAS).
One of the group, Brenton Cummings, commented: “Passing the MOET apprenticeship is an opportunity of a lifetime for me and I’m proud of my achievement. With the apprenticeship, I now have the opportunity to work with British Steel, have a well-paid job and the foundations to work my way up. The apprenticeship wasn’t easy but it was worth it, it has given me a real chance in life.”
And in Scotland, first minister Nicola Sturgeon visited Falkirk’s Forth Valley College, where 19 female apprentices are currently studying as part of the Modern Apprentices scheme recently featured by Process Engineering.
They include four participants on the Engineering Construction Industry Training Board-backed Oil and Gas Technical Apprentice Programme (OGTAP).
The first minister stated: “Creating this network of apprentices who can share their experiences with others will help inspire the next generation.
“I was very pleased to have the opportunity to launch the network at Forth Valley College, and to see first-hand the excellent work being done to encourage more young women to consider careers in fields such as engineering.”
To find out more about National Apprenticeship Week, click here.
Photo: (clockwise from top) Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon with Forth Valley apprentices, Renishaw's Jack Chapman and ABP’s Katie Hopper
Feature: Let’s make apprenticeships work for everyone.