Many low-skill and management training courses have been incorrectly labelled as ‘apprenticeships’ to attract millions in government subsidies through the apprenticeship levy, according to a new report from the public services think-tank Reform. This report shows that these mislabelled courses account for nearly 40 per cent of the apprenticeships designed by employers in recent years. Without reform, in 2019-20 the Government will spend £600 million on courses that are ‘apprenticeships’ in name only.
The report, published as the levy completes its first year of operation, shows that the list of roles now counted as an ‘apprenticeship’ includes serving customers in a delicatessen or coffee shop, working on a hotel reception desk, performing basic office administration and serving food and drink in a restaurant. Such low-skill and often very short training courses do not meet either the historical or international definition of an apprenticeship, yet they can be delivered as an ‘apprenticeship’ using funds generated by the levy.
The report has also found that employers are using the levy to rebadge existing training courses as apprenticeships. The motivation is to shift the costs of training onto the Government instead. The most obvious examples of this relabelling are found in leadership and management skills. The list of the most popular apprenticeship standards includes becoming a ‘Team Leader’, ‘Supervisor’ or ‘Manager’. Cranfield University’s prestigious School of Management has even re-designated its existing Executive MBA as an apprenticeship to attract a 90 per cent government subsidy towards the programme costs. Such practices demonstrate that ‘apprenticeships’ are increasingly focused on training older and more experienced workers at the expense of creating new opportunities for young people.
The report recommends that a new internationally-benchmarked definition of an apprenticeship is introduced to prevent the possible misuse of the apprenticeship brand by employers and training providers who wish to access government subsidies. Any apprenticeship that is not able to meet this definition should be withdrawn immediately. In addition, the report proposes that the Government’s target of having 3 million people start an apprenticeship by 2020 is abandoned as it prioritises the quantity of apprenticeships being delivered rather than the need to increase their quality.
The report also makes a number of recommendations aimed at reducing the burdens on employers created by the apprenticeship levy, including a new ‘apprenticeship voucher’ model for employers to control the available government funding as well as removing the requirement for 10 per cent co-investment from employers towards the cost of training apprentices.
Tom Richmond, Senior Research Fellow at Reform, said: “At present, the apprenticeship levy is too complicated for employers, focused on too many inappropriate forms of training and as a result is unlikely to deliver value-for-money. The Government urgently needs to get rid of these poor-quality apprenticeships in order to provide more opportunities for young people to train as genuine apprentices while saving hundreds of millions of pounds in the process.”