New concerns have emerged on the quality of apprenticeships created under the Tory-led government as almost 40 per cent of employers do not regard the in-work training they provide for employees as apprenticeships.
Professor Alison Wolf, an academic who was commissioned by ministers to lead a review into vocational education which reported in 2011, has warned of “supermarket stackers who are called apprentices”.
This week is National Apprenticeships Week, founded by the last Labour government in 2008 to celebrate apprenticeships and shine a spotlight on the work of apprentices across Britain.
Apprenticeship numbers – including for young people – are falling. Last year, the number of apprenticeship starts in South East fell by 8,750 while the number of apprenticeships for 19-24 year olds fell by 1,000.
New figures last week caused embarrassment for ministers, revealing that 20 Cabinet members’ constituencies saw the number of apprenticeships for 19-24 year olds fall last year. At the same time, only one saw the number of apprenticeship starts rise overall while in all others, the number of apprenticeship starts either fell or remained static.
Labour will use public procurement to boost quality apprenticeships by requiring suppliers on major government contracts to offer new apprenticeship opportunities. This approach, which has already been adopted by Labour councils and has been backed by the cross-party BIS Select Committee, has been blocked by the Tory-led government.
To safeguard apprenticeship quality, Labour will ensure that all apprenticeships last a minimum of two years and are at Level 3. Currently, one in five apprentices is receiving no formal training.
Commenting, Labour’s Shadow Business Secretary Chuka Umunna MP said:
"We need to make sure everyone – and particularly the next generation – can access the opportunities they need to get on in life.
"Apprenticeships play a hugely important role and I’m proud that it was a Labour government which set up National Apprenticeships Week to celebrate the difference they make for individuals, families, businesses and society.
“But under the Tory-led government we’ve seen the historic and trusted apprenticeship brand put at risk as short training courses for existing employees have been rebadged as apprenticeships.
“The next Labour government will act, using government projects to boost high apprenticeship opportunities and safeguarding quality where this has been undermined in recent years.”