• Alex Davies
  • 3 September 2015

Low skilled jobs artificially inflate apprenticeship targets, research finds

Low-skill, low pay, on-the-job training schemes are being used to meet “mad” Government targets on apprenticeships, new research has revealed. Figures reveal that 60% of all new apprentices are studying for qualifications worth no more than the equivalent of five GCSEs, and less than 3% were equivalent to a foundation degree. The Government has committed to creating three million apprenticeships by 2020 – yet many of the roles being offered on the Government’s website appear to be clerical, retail, cleaning and labouring work, rebranded as apprenticeships. Some of the schemes offered include an “apprentice warehouse assistant”, working 40 hours a week and earning £150, allowing employers to pay, in some cases, just £2.73 an hour – compared to the National Minimum Wage for that age group of £5.13.

To date this year, only 220 new science and maths apprenticeships have been created at any level, while engineering and manufacturing apprenticeships make up fewer than one in five of the new jobs.

Business groups have warned that the Government risks “devaluing” the apprenticeship brand in order to hit an artificial political target, pointing out there are only two million 16- 18-year-olds in the UK.

Professor Alison Wolf, who chaired a Government review into vocational education in 2011, declared it “a mad and artificial political target which risks undermining the reputation of apprenticeships. What the Government should be doing is concentrating on those high-value apprenticeships which teach vocational skills in manufacturing and engineering, which historically Britain has been bad at fostering. The danger is that money and resources is put into hitting a meaningless numerical target.”

The Campaign for Science and Engineering found that, between August 2014 and January 2015, only 7,500 degree-level apprenticeships were created, compared to 92,700 ‘advanced’ apprenticeships (equivalent to two A-level passes) and 148,300 at an ‘intermediate’ level, which is the equivalent of five GCSE passes.

Said Naomi Weir, the Group’s Acting Director:

“The political narrative is about high-level, technical, graduate-equivalent apprenticeships, whereas the reality is that there are only a few thousand of across the whole apprenticeship system. That is not a viable alternative to university. It could be but there needs to be a lot of effort to get us into a position of having a high-level technical system that we need to run alongside higher education.”