Employers 'abusing trust' with shoddy apprenticeships, Ofsted boss to say


The fact that only 5% of 16-year-olds go into an apprenticeship "is a little short of a disaster", the head of Ofsted is expected to say today.

Sir Michael Wilshaw will say that too many employers are "wasting public funds" on poor quality, low-level apprenticeships and "abusing the trust" placed in them by the Government and apprentices.

The Chief Inspector will address business leaders as a report is released by Ofsted which concludes that the drive to create more apprenticeships has led to their quality being diluted.

The document was compiled following interviews and conversations with more than 1,400 individuals and visits to 45 providers - finding that a third "did not provide sufficient, high-quality training that stretched the apprentices and improved their capabilities".

"Inspectors observed, for example, apprentices in the food production, retail and care sectors who were simply completing their apprenticeship by having existing low-level skills, such as making coffee, serving sandwiches or cleaning floors, accredited," the report said.

Too many low-skilled roles are also being classed as apprenticeships simply to accredit the already established skills of people who have been in a job for some time and in some cases individuals were not even aware they were on an apprenticeship.

The surge in numbers has been mainly in sectors such as customer service, retail, administration and care and has not focused enough on the priorities that actually benefit employers or the economy, the report added.

The number of 16-18-year-olds being taken on as apprentices is as low as it was a decade ago, with most places going to those over 25 - while secondary schools are not doing enough to promote apprenticeships to young people.

"The fact that only 5% of our youngsters go into an apprenticeship at 16 is little short of a disaster," Sir Michael will tell the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) West Midlands Education and Skills Conference.

"Too many of our schools are failing to prepare young people for the world of work. Even where they do, the careers advice on offer isn't encouraging enough youngsters into vocational routes that would serve them best.

"Too many of our FE (Further Education) providers have focussed for too long on equipping youngsters with dubious qualifications of little economic relevance. And too many employers have not engaged with schools or organised themselves effectively to make the apprenticeship system work.

"Our report today lays bare what many have long suspected. Despite the increase in numbers, very few apprenticeships are delivering the professional, up-to-date skills in the sectors that need them most."

He will say there is a risk of creating a two-tier system of high and low quality apprenticeships and question why there is not a recognised structure to deliver apprenticeships at a local level.

The report points out that employers - especially small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) - have been slow to get involved in designing programmes and developing standards, or in taking on apprentices out of fear of becoming mired in bureaucracy.

"Employers have got to take ownership," Sir Michael will tell the audience of business leaders in Solihull.

"This is my challenge to you. Organise yourselves. It's no use waiting for others to put structures in place and then bemoan the lack of progress made. Use your networks and knowledge to find solutions."

The report makes a series of recommendations, including that schools and further education and skills providers provide impartial careers advice about apprenticeships to all pupils and their parents.

It also said employers should agree their contributions to the apprenticeship - such as time, resources and funding - and ensure they do more than simply assess existing skills.

Skills Minister Nick Boles said: "Putting an end to poor quality training lies at the heart of our reform of apprenticeships.

"We are absolutely committed to creating three million high quality apprenticeships by 2020 including many more at degree level, because apprenticeships can change the lives of young people and open the door to a good job and a rewarding career."

Dr Adam Marshall, executive director of policy and external affairs at the British Chambers of Commerce, said Sir Michael was "right to challenge the status quo".

"Businesses have been concerned about the direction of apprenticeships ever since politicians decided to prioritise big numerical targets over long-term results," he said.

"A conveyor-belt model, focused solely on hitting the Government's target of three million new apprenticeships, would be detrimental to quality - and weaken hard-won efforts to boost the reputation and profile of apprenticeships amongst employers."

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said it was wrong to blame schools for the problem.

"It is right to increase the number of apprenticeships but quality is much more important than meeting a target number," he said.

"Apprenticeships need to be rigorous programmes of learning planned collaboratively by employers and education professionals with clear and explicit progression routes into employment.

"However, blaming schools for lack of provision of information about apprenticeships will get us nowhere with this important priority."