The Richard Review of Apprenticeships
Published in November 2012 this independent review makes a number of important recommendations in regard to apprenticeships. The more significant recommendations include:
- Apprenticeships need to be ‘redefined’ having lost the essential link between the employer and the apprentice in recent times
- The main focus should be on ‘outcomes’
- Should be ‘more employer focused’ and with government funding to employers
- Apprenticeships ‘should be industry led’
- ‘Industry standards’ are essential throughout the programme and defined by the employers
- A new set of qualifications should be developed matched to the industry standards defined
- Apprentices ‘should achieve level 2 in English and Mathematics’ on completion of the programme
- Assessment regimes should be simplified and be less bureaucratic
- Apprenticeship programmes must be promoted in a more positive way by government and employers with better quality of information to prospective apprentices
- Pre-Apprenticeship programmes/traineeships should be expanded
The review accurately identifies the bureaucratic nature of assessment for qualifications and an obsession with box ticking characterised by ‘micro-level prescription’ often associated with government interference. Many current on-job training or retraining programmes are not strictly apprenticeships but are labelled as such. The review argues that training to improve the skills of a person who has been employed for some time or who is not yet ready to start employment should not be called an apprenticeship. It also highlights the massive variation in length of the programmes, in some cases just three months and it proposes a minimum duration of one year. The review repeatedly stresses that the future regulation of the frameworks should be light touch. This point is mentioned several times in the review and has already attracted concern from amongst awarding bodies particularly in regard to the approval of training providers whether in the public or private sectors. Clearly any training provision must be of the highest quality with the rigorous application of industry standards so any mention of light touch must be viewed with some caution. The programmes should provide a greater emphasis on outcomes, subjected to industry standards and be targeted on apprentices entering employment or are engaged in occupations that require significant and continuous training.
I hope that the government takes on board the review at this critical time if it is serious about rebalancing the economy as apprenticeships are an essential component. The technical and vocational education and training system of which apprenticeship frameworks are becoming an important part could further ensure the provision of relevancy and highly qualified people to contribute to the country’s economy. They need to be managed with a high sense of purpose and commitment though. The apprenticeship frameworks and associated qualifications must be flexible, responsive, and relevant and fit for purpose underpinned with robust delivery. Apprenticeship must form an important part of a suite of technical, commercial and vocational programmes. Sadly the vocational qualifications system is still seen as second class and all the traditional problems and negative perceptions that have bedevilled it for decades are still currently evident in government political and policy commentary*. Apprenticeships together with the vocational qualifications system must as from now been seen as equivalent to so-called academic qualifications including at higher levels and these viewed as of equal status to university awards should be explicit.
Overall the review has many good points but I feel it still lacks a fundamental analysis of what the frameworks should look like in the future. For example I would have liked to see more detail on how the programmes would be flexible enough in order to recognise and cope with the uncertain times associated with austerity, high youth unemployment and a volatile employment climate. Apprenticeships should play a major part in any rebalancing of the economy. Attention is also needed to the part key professional bodies like the CIPHE and other employer organisations would play in the development and operation of the apprenticeship programmes in the future. Hopefully the government will implement the findings and this will trigger a more thorough reform of this important element of the skills agenda.
(First published in the Education and Training Magazine (ETM) for Plumbing lecturers Spring 2013. SNG Publishers Ltd.).