Understanding the Government’s response to the Richard Review on Apprenticeships

The Government’s response to the Richard Review on Apprenticeships was more than welcome. For those who have not read the Richard Review, I would encourage you to do so. It’s a straightforward, down-to-earth and positive take on how our apprenticeships should be working.

One of the key findings of the review was that apprenticeships should be employer-led. I’d talked about this recently, in my blog ‘Why apprenticeships should be employer-led’. This is clearly something with which the Government concurs. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg last week formally responded to the Richard Review, putting the weight of Government behind its findings.

This is great news. In my view, there’s no bigger issue facing the UK than youth training – getting people into real jobs, via real apprenticeships as well as via university. David Cameron had already stated that apprenticeships should be the ‘new norm’ – essentially, if you don’t go to university then you should be taking an apprenticeship.

The apprenticeships themselves, says Clegg, should not be “one-size-fits-all programmes” but rather tailored around what employers want. I back this 100%. There’s an efficiency in ‘standard training’ that is undeniable: you create one learning programme and it can then be delivered to many people. But that’s not how apprenticeships should work.

The whole point of an apprenticeship is that it prepares a person for work – not just in a specific sector, not just for a specific role, but for a role with a specific employer. If it doesn’t do this, really, it’s ‘just training’. I’m not knocking training – but I think it’s important that we don’t corrupt the term ‘apprenticeship’ to mean something which it isn’t.

Clegg’s not saying that employers need to create the training themselves (although they could) but that they should provide input and steer the training – helping to decide what the learning topics are, how the resulting qualifications work and so on. In this way, they are not only invested in the process, they get people trained in exactly the way they want.

Although this is probably the Government’s key recommendation, their response has also created clarity and direction around many other issues. For example:

  • every apprenticeship should be based on meaningful standards; ones to which the employer has some input.
  • apprenticeships should be targeted at skilled jobs – and provide the starting point for a real career.
  • there should be a focus on clear outcomes – in other words, at the end of the apprenticeship there should be an unambiguous expectation of what the apprentice can do, in practical terms.
  • where apprentices don’t have a level 2 qualification (earned via their GCSEs) in English and maths, then they will be required to also work towards these.
  • training for current workers (those who already are competent in their jobs) is not an apprenticeship and shouldn’t be termed so; such training should be handled separately.

The skills minister, Matthew Hancock, has said: “We firmly agree with Doug Richard's assessment of the challenges and opportunities ahead for apprenticeships, and his recommendations to reform the programme in pursuit of rigour and responsiveness. Now we've set out our plans, we want to hear from employers, educators, apprentices and others in the further education and skills sector to help us design and implement these changes.”

This is a clear endorsement of the Richard Review and I personally support this wholeheartedly.

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