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How the quality agenda will define the new era of Apprenticeships

In his first column for FE News, David Way, chief executive of the National Apprenticeship Service, discusses how the quality agenda will define the new era of Apprenticeships.

When we launched the New Era of Apprenticeships during this year’s National Apprenticeship Week, we were clear that quality must underpin all of our work.  The commitment to a high quality agenda will be one of my top priorities during my tenure as Chief Executive.  I believe that the need to achieve high quality experiences for apprentices and employers is a cause that unites and motivates all of us within the FE sector

While we have made huge strides in raising quality from a range of perspectives and measures, we acknowledge that there is still work to be done.  This week, Skills Minister John Hayes announced that all Apprenticeships for those aged 19 and over will last between one to four years unless prior learning means they can be completed in less time and reduced funding is claimed. As a result no Apprenticeship can therefore take less than 6 months even with prior learning. This reflects the need for an apprentice to have time to undertake a significant journey of learning through their Apprenticeship.

By ensuring Apprenticeships last between one and four years, we are not only giving employers what they say they want but also giving confidence back to everyone who has questioned the growth in shorter Apprenticeships. This announcement, which sits alongside the Government’s plans for a minimum duration of a year for all 16 – 18 Apprenticeships, will provide more time for apprentices to practice and embed skills in the workplace and to become excellent in their occupation.  In many cases they will be well prepared for further training and development.

When speaking with employers about the changes to the duration of Apprenticeships they have been very receptive to the reasons.  They see the value of practising skills in the workplace and ensuring apprentices are truly confident in their abilities to do a good job.   They appreciate that the longer period of training will enable apprentices to progress further in time.

We know too, from the Learners’ survey we have conducted, that learner dissatisfaction rates are highest when Apprenticeships are shorter.  I am pleased that we have taken time to get the best possible way forward on Apprenticeship duration so that we can ensure confidence in all Apprenticeships.  I also look forward to sharing with you, in my next column, the full results of the latest Learners’ survey.

Working closely with the Skills Funding Agency we have a better appreciation of the issues relating to short duration programmes.  While not overstating the scale of this, some simply relate to the way information is recorded with necessary breaks in the Apprenticeship journey because of redundancy or redeployment falsely inflating the short duration statistics.  Where this is not the case, we are working with providers whose practise does not reflect the essence of an Apprenticeship.  An Apprenticeship is about employment and skills development, it is not simply a vocational training course.  We are already seeing providers responding to our concerns and meeting the higher standards required.  The changes they are putting in place have resulted in the number of short duration Apprenticeships falling and we are confident this will continue.

If I was to highlight one key part of the quality strategy outlined by Skills Minister John Hayes recently, it would be the growth of Higher Apprenticeships.  In my meetings with employers and Sector Skills Councils, this is the development that is exciting them the most, and I hope this is true for many of you as well.  As a result of the expansion through a £25 million funding programme announced by the Government, we are now able to introduce Apprenticeships into new sectors and with impressive new businesses.  I will continue to keep you updated on these developments.

I look forward to continuing working with everyone in the sector and to ensure that the experiences of all apprentices are as good as they can possibly be.

David Way is chief executive of the National Apprenticeship Service

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