Apprenticeship in the British 'Training Market'

Article excerpt

Paul Ryan [*]

Lorna Unwin [**]

British apprenticeship, now dependent on the Modern Apprenticeship programme, is compared in this paper to both German apprenticeship and its national predecessor, Youth Training. Modern Apprenticeship shares many of the attributes of Youth Training, and shows some improvement in terms of skills produced. However, British apprenticeship performs poorly, in terms of rates of qualification and completion, as well as in breadth and depth of training, relative to its German counterpart, despite the provision by Modern Apprenticeship of substantial government financial support. The fact that MA resembles YT more than German apprenticeship reflects continuing institutional differences between the two countries, notably the limitations of the training quasi-market in which both YT and MA have operated. The prospects for MA to flourish, let alone perform the educational role that the government envisages for it, are bleak in the absence of institutional development along different lines.


Since 1994 a public programme, Modern Apprenticeship (MA, has sought to increase Britain's supply of in-termed ate skills by expanding work-based learning among young people. The programme is oriented towards craft and technician skills, and to the blending of on-the-job and off-the-job training.

The context is one of low skill supplies, and the damage done thereby to Britain's economic performance and social fabric. The national shortfall in productivity and trade performance, relative to Germany and France in particular reflects lower national inputs of skill, particular at intermediate level (Prais, 1995; Oulton, 1996; Mason, 2000). Moreover, the work-based path to intermediate skill, through apprenticeship, is associated with favourable school-to-work transitions, for both individuals and countries (Ryan, 2001a).

Such concerns nowadays permeate government policy (DfEE, 1999a). National targets have been adopted for the acquisition of qualifications by young workers. Progress towards meeting the youth targets has however occurred largely along the full-time, classroom-based route, general and vocational. The work-based route has thus far contributed little: youth employment has shrunk and many participants in labour market programmes have not gained the desired qualifications. An expansion of work-based learning could tap its greater appeal to many young people than that of fulltime, classroom-based learning (Green and Steedman, 1997).

Modern Apprenticeship is enigmatic, welcomed in principle but criticised in practice (Evans et al., 1997; Fuller and Unwin, 2001). The programme may be viewed from two perspectives. The content of its title suggests that MA should be viewed as apprenticeship as the institution is understood nowadays on the continent-i.e., as occupational preparation combined with vocational education. From that standpoint, it appears peculiar and defective (Steedman, this issue; Ryan 2000, 2001b). The capitalisation of its title suggests however that MA should be viewed as a labour market programme, part of the genus developed since the 1970s (Unwin, 1997). From that standpoint, Modern Apprenticeship appears an improvement within national mainstream. We find the 'programme' perspective more appropriate to understanding MA's functioning; the 'institution' perspective, to assessing its contribution to skills.

Our discussion contains four restrictions. Firstly, we concentrate on efficiency aspects, notably national skill supplies, and set aside the equity objectives as universal youth access, that have influence the programme's design. Conventional economic relating labour market outcomes to in MA, is debarred by data unavailability (Payne et al., 2001). Instead, we present evidence on the programme's operation, aspects typically slighted in economic evaluations (Grubb and Ryan, 1999). Secondly, given our focus on intermediate skills, we concentrate on what is now termed Advanced Modern Apprenticeship. …