Three million quality apprenticeships

Sue Husband, Director of the National Apprenticeship Service addressed the 2016 FE Week annual apprenticeship conference at the ICC in Birmingham.

Sue Husband

I am delighted to be here on Day Four of National Apprenticeship Week. I want to thank you all for the work your organisations have done this week – to celebrate the amazing achievements of apprentices across the country.

On Day One, both #National Apprenticeship Week – and #NAW2016 were trending on Twitter. The many pictures and film clips shared on social media by apprentices have been superb. They have visibly captured the energy and excitement of the apprentices involved.

At events this week, employers have been asked to make apprenticeship pledges. To commit to expanding their apprenticeship operations – or to get involved with apprenticeships for the very first time. Last year, we received 23,000 pledges across the week – a record breaking number.

This year, we have smashed that figure. There are more events tomorrow and more pledges are coming in. The final total – our highest ever total - will be announced shortly. It’s a remarkable effort across the entire sector. A truly collective effort.

You will all be aware of the government’s vision for 3 million high quality apprenticeship starts. And quality is intrinsically linked to the 3 million starts. Let me be absolutely crystal clear on this point. The focus of Government in the last few years has been on quality. High quality apprenticeships. That’s what we all want.

I read the survey results from FE Week on quality… With the question asked: Are you concerned quality will suffer in the effort to increase quantity?

The findings showed a high proportion of you were concerned… Now I can’t speak for you… But if something is a concern for me, It’s a matter of interest - of importance to me… And in life, I find we give the most attention to those things that concern us most. It’s absolutely crucial that there are so many of us, collectively, focused on raising the quality of apprenticeships and we are all well placed to do so.

I hope that everyone at this conference shares the same goal on apprenticeships. Everyone agrees on the pivotal role of quality in apprenticeships. And everyone here has the ability to positively influence the quality of apprenticeships. So that, outside of this conference hall, young people, head teachers, parents and employers can be totally confident that apprenticeships will deliver for individuals and for the economy. That the time invested by young people is absolutely worth it. That the money invested by government and employers is paying for the best training available. That the effort made by employers improves their business competitiveness. That the backing of parents to the choice of an apprenticeship by their child is justified.

Because to achieve 3 million quality apprenticeship starts we need to increase the number of starts by 20% from current levels. Improving quality is therefore essential to boosting the trajectory of starts and engaging the commitment from businesses to do more. That means SMEs as much as large employers out there.

And with employers now at the heart of apprenticeship reform, I believe employers will drive forward continuous improvement. In the same way employers have defined the knowledge and skills required to make apprenticeships the best choice for UKplc and young people.

Because the impact on young people is genuinely life-changing. One of the best parts of my job is getting to meet apprentices at their places of work. It means I get a clear sense of the desire, the enthusiasm, and the dedication that apprentices exude.Today’s apprentices – tomorrow’s leaders, pioneers, innovators and even CEOs.

And this is all linked to the overarching theme of National Apprenticeship Week. This entire week is about telling everyone the simple message – an apprenticeship can take you anywhere. And young people are increasingly drawn towards the magnet of apprenticeships.We all have a role to play championing the apprenticeship story.

Apprenticeships can be summed up in two phrases – ‘opportunity’ and ‘unlimited ambition’. Apprenticeships unlock career opportunities. They provide experience, qualifications and vital business knowledge. Giving individuals the chance to acquire skills that can be used in any industry. Gaining these skills enables people to progress in their career choices at any stage of their lives. And I want to stress the importance of transferable skills. The skills acquired in apprenticeships will enable young people to compete against the best. In any business sector.

And we already know that, with existing standards, a Level 2 apprenticeship, on average, increases earning income by 11%, for a Level 3 apprenticeship, that figure on income rises to a 16% increase.

And for employers, apprenticeships make strong commercial sense. Helping businesses improve the quality of their products and services. Allowing employers to immerse the future talent of their staff, in the culture and values of each individual business. Apprenticeships work for individuals and employers.

This week, I read a fascinating article online about a list of people who have made the journey from being an apprentice to being the boss. Jamie Oliver was on there – before becoming a household name, he began his career with an apprenticeship in home economics. Since then, Jamie has become a passionate champion of apprenticeships with his ‘Fifteen’ restaurant chain. Stella McCartney was an apprentice tailor. Lord Bamford, the head of JCB, started with an engineering apprenticeship at Massey Ferguson in France. Andy Palmer was a 16 year old apprentice at Automotive Products in the West Midlands before he joined Austin Rover. He then served a 23 year stint at Nissan. Now, he is the Chief Executive of Aston Martin.There’s no reason why the names of your apprentices cannot be in a future article about business leaders.

This year, the overarching theme of National Apprenticeship Week, is ‘Rise to the top’. It captures the essence of what apprenticeships are all about. Progression is the golden thread of apprenticeships. It’s why there has been a particular focus this week on both higher and Degree apprenticeships, not surprisingly, the fastest growing parts of the apprenticeship programme.

Improving skills at higher levels is an economic imperative. The UK stands at around 20% below the rest of the G7 countries. But more employers have now grasped the compelling story of apprenticeships and how both new staff and existing employees can climb to the top.

On Degree apprenticeships, we now have over 20 universities working with FE providers to deliver qualifications up to Level 7. Higher Education and Further Education connecting well together on higher level skills. There are now over 140 Trailblazers involving more than 1,300 employers, designing new apprenticeship standards. Over 200 new standards have been published, over 60 of these are higher and Degree apprenticeships. A further 150 new standards are in development.

I talk to large numbers of young people about their career choices, for some people, it’s often a choice between university or an apprenticeship. One great element of Degree apprenticeships is the chance to do both. The opportunity to combine the academic knowledge of a traditional university degree with the practical experience demanded by employers and crucial for success in the jobs market, with a salary and chance to progress.

It’s a straightforward decision. Why wouldn’t a young person want to consider an apprenticeship as their plan A? The attraction for employers is that they are suitable for both small and large businesses. Designed by employers – for employers.

We stand at a crucial moment in time for apprenticeships. Large employers are gearing up for the apprenticeship Levy. I know that David Hill and Keith Smith spoke about the Levy yesterday. This is a vital tool in funding the increase in high quality apprenticeship training. The Levy will be set at 0.5% of an employer pay bill, it will be introduced next year for employers with a pay bill of over £3 million. In effect, less than 2% of employers will pay the Levy. Both employers in the public and private sector will be in scope.

In the private sector, about 2.3% of the workforce is apprentices. In the public sector, that figure falls to 1.7% of its workforce. And we need to fix this.

And that’s why the Government is legislating to set targets for public sector bodies. Through the Levy, in England, control of apprenticeship funding will be put in the hands of employers via the Digital Apprenticeship Service, to ensure that it delivers the training required. Employers will choose and pay for the apprenticeship training and assessment they want - through the Digital Apprenticeship Service.

The service will also support employers to:

  • choose an apprenticeship training course
  • find a candidate
  • and choose a training provider

The Levy was announced at the same time as the Institute for Apprenticeships. The Institute will be independent – and operational by April 2017. This new body will support the development and delivery of high quality apprenticeship standards and assessment plans.

So, again, quality – the DNA of apprenticeships.

To conclude, let me say this: We need apprenticeships to be relevant, resilient and respected. Relevant to the priorities businesses shout about and to the apprentices undertaking them. Resilient apprenticeships, that are both challenging and fit for purpose and apprenticeships that are respected, valued, and held in esteem by employers, individuals and wider society. Apprenticeships that we are all proud of.

Published 18 March 2016