We should stop talking about the Government “funding” apprenticeships

The Government does not “fund” apprenticeships and we should stop using the word.

I dislike it for two reasons.  First, it implies that the Government is paying the lion’s share – it’s not, and it’s not going to.  Governments always put a positive spin on what they do, but they long ago stopped implying that the money they put into the apprenticeship pot comes close to paying for everything.  It’s a contribution, no more.  And employers should not be misled into believing anything else.

The second reason is that bigging-up what Government does weakens the fundamental point that apprentices are employees.  This is not another Government programme.  It’s about Government encouraging employers to invest in their own employees, and put them on structured training programmes.  But they are first and foremost employees, and the prime responsibility for them belongs with their employers, not with the Government.

I therefore use the word subsidy.  The Government is subsidising apprenticeships, and offering a large enough subsidy that it buys the right to shape the rules of the game, but it’s only doing that: it does not control them.  “Subsidy” has the great merit of accuracy, and using it instead of “fund” is a continuing reminder about the true relationship between Government and employers.  Government attempts to influence; employers decide.

PS  There’s certainly a case for using the word “invest” instead, but it’s become so worn out through over-use and plain abuse (particularly in the Blair-Brown years) that it has lost a lot of its power.  (In the Mackinnon household we “invest” in a new tube of toothpaste: we would not stoop to anything so insignificant as merely “buying” one).  It’s a shame, but we should leave the word “invest” alone for a bit.


About Iain Mackinnon

I am Managing Director of The Mackinnon Partnership, a niche consultancy working primarily with public sector clents in the UK, and focusing on skills and enterprise, usually in the wider context of wider economic development.
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