The government views apprenticeships as a potential solution to the skills gap crisis. This was reaffirmed at the annual Conservative Party Conference in Manchester when, having reached its previous target of two million apprentices, Skills Minister Nick Boles outlined the government’s new target of achieving three million apprentices by the end of this parliament.
Raising awareness of apprenticeship schemes among school-leavers has been a government priority for a while, and it is set to ensure availability of such schemes by enforcing new measures whereby all public sector bodies and any companies over a certain size tendering for government contracts will be required to make a commitment to hiring apprentices.
Tackling the image problem
The idea of earning while you learn a trade should be a dream come true to many school-leavers, yet for some there is still the idea that taking up an apprenticeship is somehow a ‘cop out’ and that really they should be going on to university. To tackle this image problem, the government has announced a string of new plans.
Firstly, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has announced a crackdown on apprenticeship schemes after complaints that some apprentices are lured into schemes that offer low level training. Now, the government is introducing new powers to prosecute training providers who misuse the term ‘apprenticeship’ – in future, anyone offering fake or low-quality apprenticeships training could face the possibility of a fine and prosecution in a magistrates’ court.
Secondly, there is to be official protection of the term ‘apprenticeship’ in much the same way the term ‘degree’ is protected. As part of the recently launched Enterprise Bill measures have been put in place that makes it an offence for a person, in the course of business, to provide or offer a course or training as an apprenticeship if it is not a statutory apprenticeship.
Lastly, from 1 October this year the apprentice rate of the National Minimum Wage (NMW) increased by 57 pence to £3.30 an hour, while the NMW rate for adult workers rises by 20 pence from £6.50 to £6.70 per hour. The boost for apprentices is the largest ever and means that those working 40 hours a week will now have £1,185 more in their pay packet over the year. By implementing a rate higher than the Low Pay Commission’s recommendation, apprenticeships will deliver a wage that is comparable to other choices for work.