Re-thinking apprenticeships: we should stand firm on core principles

First it was Brexit and Trump. Now we have Cornwall asking us to stay away, and Transport for London asking us not to travel unless we really have to. Where are the certainties these days?

So when a civil servant on a call yesterday said that everything was on the table in the latest thinking about how apprenticeships might respond to the coronavirus crisis it was no surprise that one of the callers tried his luck. “What about the length? Could we have shorter apprenticeships, less than a year?”.

This was a very good briefing session from the National Apprenticeship Service, who were updating intermediary organisations like the Maritime Skills Alliance on the guidance they’re offering around the coronavirus.

Very much to their credit, I thought, the organisers back-tracked immediately to say that there are some core features which they thought Ministers would not back away from – and a minimum length of a year for apprenticeships was one of them.

I was very pleased to hear that. There’s plenty scope to argue over the detail of how apprenticeships are designed and managed, but there are some basic principles which Ministers really ought to stand firm on, or they will be giving-up the real gains made in shaping a high quality programme. Apprenticeships cannot solve every problem in the labour market, and Ministers should not listen to the complaints of those who want the programme to be what it was never designed to be.

There are two big jobs to be done right now:

1 help employers to protect the jobs of their current apprentices
2 give employers the confidence to stick with their next recruitment cohort, even if it’s a bit later than originally planned.

We are in extraordinary times and the Government is right to look at some flexibilities in order to do those things. That might mean oiling the wheels with some money, and it might mean more programme flexibilities. But I hope they will not spoil the core design of the programme; these should be temporary flexibilities only. Don’t destabilise the programme by changing the fundamentals.

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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