FE Week: Working together to create a sustainable apprenticeship system that unlocks talent, and supports businesses and the economy

By Neil Carmichael.

A long-term vision for apprenticeships, the report from the Independent Apprenticeship Policy Group, sponsored by Pearson, was launched at the Annual Apprenticeship Conference today. Its independent Chair, Neil Carmichael, tells us more about the group, their intentions, and the key outcomes of the work.

Apprenticeships have long been a bedrock of our education and employment landscape. And I would argue we have a successful system. That said, could it provide individuals and our economy with even greater value? The exploration of that question was at the heart of the Independent Apprenticeship Policy Group (IAPG).

The Group, thanks to the support of Pearson, brought together 15 experts from across the world of apprenticeships, including employers, providers, assessment organisations and the learner voice. In 2018 I chaired the Commission on Sustainable Learning exploring how the broader education and skills system needs to evolve to meet future skills needs. Given their importance, we wanted now to focus on apprenticeships as a vital element of this country’s skills system.

We set out to provide a clear and independent overview of the challenges facing the apprenticeship system in this country, and to generate practical solutions. We focussed on three key themes:

1. Building a sustainable apprenticeship system

2. Supporting individuals to access and succeed

3. Measuring success to inform future investment

Firstly, a successful system is one that is sustainable and fit for the long term.

Investment in apprenticeship spending should remain employer-led. This needs to be within a structure of incentives set by government, and agreed with employers, creating a system that reflects the broader needs of our economy.

And as patterns of economic growth and skills shortages vary considerably across the regions of England the provision of training programmes should be able to adapt to local and regional circumstances.

We also highlight the contribution of small and medium enterprises and the importance of engaging them and ensuring the system helps them grow and thrive.

Secondly, we want the system to evolve to unlock the talent of more individuals to help them access and achieve.

Apprenticeships need to be properly signposted, valued and accessible, and we must invest more in one of our key resources – young people.

A consistent theme expressed to the IAPG was that the employer’s role needed to be clearer, and better supported. And we made a particular point of recommending that we must invest in apprenticeships in the key sectors that will be crucial to our future success. It is worth noting that last week IfATE published a consultation on setting funding bands which shows their thinking is going in the same direction.

Assessment needs to be fit-for-purpose, assessing exactly what learners, and businesses, need to succeed. In achieving this, softer skills and competencies, and highly technical skills, could be usefully tested as part of the programme, and before the end-point assessment.

In particular, the Group felt that to maintain high and consistent standards, one regulator, possibly Ofqual, needs to have overall responsibility for External Quality Assurance (EQA). I was pleased to see, last week, the publication of the IfATE consultation on a system where EQA is delivered by either Ofqual or, for integrated degree apprenticeships, the Office for Students (OfS).

Although much of the political focus is understandably on the recruitment of apprentices, progression should be a central feature of apprenticeships policy. Individuals need to be put at the heart of how progression is understood. The definition of progression needs to be a broad one and take account of what progression might look like for the individual.

Finally, apprenticeships are widely acknowledged to play a key part meeting skills needs and are critical to driving productivity gains within our economy. Finding a way to best measure productivity gains will help inform future investment and policy decisions.

The report was truly collaborative, bringing together a broad spectrum of experiences and ideas from across apprenticeships. Its authority rests on the vast expertise of the Group’s members. And every individual involved was clear about their support for apprenticeships, and their commitment to the success of the system. This commitment was key.

The potential value of apprenticeships to unlock talent and to contribute to the economy is significant. They already support thousands of individuals and employers to flourish, but we know they can achieve even more. The IAPG’s report and recommendations

builds on what is already working and suggests where we can make progress. With everyone agreeing with the value of apprenticeships, further and future success should be within our grasp.

Please see go.pearson.com/iapg, and follow us #IndAppGp

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