Apprenticeship policies 'will not close widening skills gap'


The Government's apprenticeship policies, including a new levy on big businesses, will not fill widening skills gaps, MPs have warned.

The levy of 0.5% of the annual wage bill of firms with a payroll of more than £3 million was described as a "blunt instrument", mainly focused on increasing participation levels.

Ministers were urged to put more emphasis on whether apprentices manage to find jobs.

The levy, which starts on April 6, is aimed at creating three million new placements by 2020, but MPs said the target could hamper attempts to improve the quality of apprenticeships.

A report by a sub committee of the Education and Business Select Committee also warned that schools were still failing to promote non-university routes.

Co-chairman Iain Wright said: "The Government's flagship apprenticeships policies positively focus on raising participation, but are inherently contradictory.

"Ministers have a centrally-dictated, top-down three million target at the same time as insisting that this approach will be bottom-up and address the skills requirements of individual firms, sectors and regional economies.

"These requirements will often be very different and the Government should target those sectors of the economy and regions of the country where skills shortages are particularly acute.

"Too much training remains sub-standard and detrimental to the career of apprentices and, more widely, the performance of our economy.

"The success of the Government's reforms will ultimately be judged on whether the planned increase in the quantity of apprenticeships is matched by an increase in their quality."

The committee said that even though the number of new apprenticeships increased to over half a million in 2015-16, there were more than 200,000 vacancies for skilled workers.

The MPs recommended that the Government publishes annual figures on skills shortages.

The Unite union voiced concern over a lack of measures to prevent an increase in inferior apprenticeships as firms try to "claw back" levy money.

Acting general secretary Gail Cartmail said: "We have consistently argued against scores on doors and believe the Government should be primarily concerned with quality and meeting the actual needs of different industrial sectors.

"If unscrupulous employers are subverting the apprenticeship system in any way, they need to be named and shamed."

A survey earlier this week of 1,000 firms by Manpower found that almost two out of three knew little or nothing about the apprenticeship levy.

Young Women's Trust chief executive Dr Carole Easton said: "The growing skills shortage in sectors like construction and engineering will not be plugged unless we help more young women into relevant apprenticeships.

"Our research has found that young women across the country are shut out of these sectors due to issues like gender stereotypes and a lack of support."

A Department for Education spokeswoman said the apprenticeship levy would double annual funding for apprenticeships to £2.5 billion by 2019/20. 

She said: "The Government's focus is on building a world-class education and skills system that will give everyone a chance to climb the ladder of opportunity to rewarding careers.

"It means we are not just concentrating on apprenticeship starts, but on employment opportunities, employer take-up and quality."