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Is there a problem with apprenticeships?

08 March 2019

The government, and Department for Education in particular, have ‘some way to go ‘ before it can demonstrate that the apprenticeships programme is achieving value for money, says the National Audit Office.

The NAO main concern is the fact that the current number of apprenticeships is well below pre-reform levels. When we talk about pre-reform here we are talking ‘the levy’.

The number of apprenticeship starts in 2017/18 was 375,000, 26% lower than the 509,400 starts in 2015/16. As a result, the rate of take up would need to double for the government to meet its target of 3 million new starts by March 2020, which the NAO says ‘it is very unlikely to achieve’.

There is also a concern about the focus on starts rather than completions. Some 32% of apprentices in 2016/17 failed to complete their apprenticeships successfully.

In its report, the NAO says the DoE is also hoping that higher-level apprenticeships will deliver more value in terms of long-term wage return to the apprentice. Training for these apprenticeships absorbs more public funding, so there is a risk that the value of apprenticeships to the economy is not proportionate to the amount of government funding. Apprenticeships also now cover a wide range of professions and types of training – such as accountants, actuaries and solicitors – which, says NAO, raises questions about whether public money is being used to pay for training that already existed in other forms. Now, is that a warning to the accountancy profession?

The NAO is also unhappy with the Education & Skills Funding Agency (EFSA), which is responsible for apprenticeships policy and fir overseas the delivery of apprenticeships. It found that the EFSA has limited assurance that apprentices are spending at least 20% of their time on off-the-job-training, which is a key requirement of being on an apprenticeship.

The NAO report concludes with concerns about the long-term financial sustainability of the programme and is recommending government departments should determine what action they can take to deal with the risk of overspending should demand pick up in a way to meet the programme’s objectives.

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