No train, no gain

Think tank: EDSK

Author(s): Tom Richmond; Eleanor Regan

November 28, 2022

This report from UK think tank EDSK provides an investigation into the quality of apprenticeships in England.

Exactly ten years after the publication of a major government review into the quality of apprenticeships in England, a new report from the education think tank EDSK finds that many apprentices are receiving such a poor experience that they are dropping out of their training programmes in huge numbers. The report calls on the government to take direct action against those employers and training providers who are letting down their apprentices. The report finds that tens of thousands of apprentices are not receiving their minimum entitlements to training during their programme. All apprentices must get one-day-a-week ‘off the job’ away from their normal work duties so that they can receive vital teaching and training, yet more than half of apprentices get less than the minimum one-day-a-week and 30 per cent receive no training from their provider throughout the entire working week. One in five apprentices are not even told by their employer or training provider that this minimum entitlement exists.

These problems are made worse by the fact that apprentices are never given a curriculum or syllabus before they start their training that sets out what they will learn – something that would never be tolerated for A-level and university applicants. Remarkably, the government allows training providers to count any time that apprentices spend watching online lectures and doing their homework and written assignments as ‘training’. As a result, apprentices can go weeks, sometimes months, without receiving any training from a mentor or industry expert. Training providers can still claim the maximum government funding available for each apprenticeship even if they offer no face-to-face teaching at all. The lack of genuine training has become so prevalent that one in ten apprentices are not aware that they are on an apprenticeship.

The report also finds that some employers continue to treat apprentices as workers rather than learners and see training their apprentices as a ‘burden’, with one in five apprentices receiving no ‘on the job’ training from their employer. Despite apprenticeships being aimed at skilled jobs requiring substantial training, the government has allowed employers to rebadge low-skill roles as ‘apprenticeships’. Consequently, some ‘apprentices’ end up doing basic tasks like heating precooked meals, greeting customers, doing housekeeping and answering telephone calls while getting paid as little as £4.81 an hour. Employers themselves admit that outside of the apprenticeship system many low-skill jobs – such as working in a supermarket, driving a delivery van and dog grooming – only require a few weeks of training. Government figures show that almost half of apprentices (47 per cent) are now dropping out of their course, and a staggering 70 per cent of those who drop out report problems with the quality of their training – equivalent to 115,000 apprentices every year. The report concludes that a package of reforms is needed to improve the quality of apprenticeships and protect apprentices from poor practice, with the aim of delivering the “world class” system envisaged by the government’s review a decade ago.