Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

MPs Turn the Screws on Apprentice Agency Heads: Fe News

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

MPs Turn the Screws on Apprentice Agency Heads: Fe News

Article excerpt

But chief executives tell select committee 9 in 10 are satisfied.

Only one in 10 apprentices say they are dissatisfied with their courses, the heads of the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) and the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) told MPs last week, as they responded to criticisms that the growth in the number of apprenticeships had damaged quality.

Speaking at the Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee, David Way, interim chief executive of the NAS, also revealed that the service's surveys showed that about two-thirds of apprenticeships went to staff already in employment, rather than creating new jobs.

The apprenticeship programme is facing scrutiny over how far it simply accredits existing knowledge rather than creating new skills - the same problems experienced by the Train to Gain scheme, which the expanded apprenticeship programme was intended to replace.

"The people who are least satisfied are people who are taking short- duration apprenticeships, which is why we are removing those," Mr Way told MPs. Only 87 of more than 1,000 providers are offering apprenticeships of less than 12 months, he said, and they make up about 8 per cent of the total number of places.

Mr Way said that some providers misunderstood apprenticeships: "The heart of (an apprenticeship) is about employment and skills development in the workplace. Some training providers saw apprenticeships as basically a training course, and as soon as you were capable of passing the various tests you were assessed and you got your apprenticeship. That's not our view."

The greatest satisfaction was registered for courses such as engineering and the least for those such as hairdressing, Mr Way said, although he added that dissatisfaction was sometimes caused by factors not related to training, such as pay.

He defended the focus on the volume of apprenticeships, saying that the number of starts had reached 457,200. "It was very clear that the blockage to the growth of apprenticeships was the lack of employer opportunities. So the biggest thing we've been able to bring to apprenticeships has been to expand the number of workplaces that are offering apprenticeships," he said.

The chief executives of both organisations rejected MPs' suggestion that there was a conflict of interest in the NAS being responsible both for "selling" apprenticeships to employers and for safeguarding their quality. "It would scare me if the NAS was only responsible for sales and someone else was responsible for production," said Geoff Russell, chief executive of the SFA. …

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