We discuss apprenticeship reform & urge Government to rethink cuts

At our Labour party conference fringe event we discussed the challenges and opportunities surrounding next year’s reforms
28 September 2016

In October we held our ‘2020 Vision for Apprenticeships: Are You Ready?’ Labour Party Conference fringe event in Liverpool. We welcomed 75 delegates including MPs, industry leaders, political experts, businesses, and young people to take part in a panel discussion exploring the apprenticeship levy and other factors set to impact apprenticeships over the next 12 months.

During the enlightening event, it was agreed by most that we need to embrace and support the reform – but a number of issues need clarification, including the proposed cuts to apprenticeships funding, which caused concern.

Opposition to funding cuts

Funding changes, set to take effect from May 2017, will see apprenticeship funding for 16-18 year olds slashed by 30 per cent, with projected 50 per cent cuts in some of the most deprived areas of the country. 

YMCA Training’s Managing Director, Lady Andree Deane Barron, urged the Government to reconsider these proposed cuts, saying: “The fact that the Government is planning on scrapping the disadvantaged area uplift from funding calculations next year poses a huge concern for us and will be devastating to learners from deprived areas.”

Andree also revealed that YMCA Training had hit its target of completing 3,000 apprenticeships last year, while stating that at least half of the youngsters that completed these schemes were on disadvantaged-area uplift. 

Apprenticeship reform specialist Chris Cherry, another speaker at the event, added that: "Apprenticeships are often the one chance many 16-18 year olds have of getting on the skills ladder.” 

Apprenticeships are often the one chance many 16-18 year olds have of getting on the skills ladder.
Apprenticeship reform specialist Chris Cherry

‘Mired in confusion’

Other concerns expressed by participants during the event included the Government’s lack of timely communication and transparency over its plan for apprenticeships. 

Stephen Timms, Labour MP and member of the Education Select Committee, stated that a “clear sense of direction seems to be lacking” when discussing the Government’s plan. He added that unless a clear plan is formed, along with a greater understanding of the benefits apprenticeships bring to productivity and the economy, “there is a real risk that the apprenticeship system will become mired in confusion”.

The MP also raised questions over how success of the reform would actually be measured and how the target number of three million had been reached. 

Matching skills to business needs 

Skills was another issue high on the agenda, with Mark Basnett of Liverpool City Region Enterprise Partnership, stating that the biggest constraint on growth today for businesses is access to skills. The panel agreed that ultimately employers have to take a lead on apprenticeships if business needs are to be properly translated into the provision of good apprenticeship schemes. 

Improving perceptions of apprenticeships

During a question and answer session towards the end of the event, a delegate raised concern over the difficulty of finding eligible apprentices. This was followed up with an urge from speakers to break the current culture that apprenticeships are seen as inferior to university and a call schools to provide better information on careers and apprenticeship opportunities.

Praising YMCA Training for the work it does with young people who haven’t succeeded in mainstream education, Stephen Timms MP ended the session by adding that the organisation had “been successful in engaging young people who for whatever reason hadn’t done well in school”.

Wondering how the new apprenticeship levy will work for your business? Check out our guide.