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House of Lords calls for apprenticeships minister


The House of Lords has criticised the government’s handling of responsibility for the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) and is calling for a single minister to be in charge.

In today’s follow-up report to last year’s Apprenticeship: A key route to skill, it also calls for NAS to be responsible for contacting employers and encouraging them to offer apprenticeship schemes and feels that funding for apprenticeships should be paid directly to employers.

While welcoming the creation of NAS, the Lords’ Economic Affairs Committee is ‘disappointed’ that responsibility for the service has been split between two departments – the Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills.

The committee’s original report called for a single minister to be directly responsible for apprentice provision – and they have reasserted that position in the follow-up report.

The committee acknowledges that NAS fulfils the role of a UCAS-style 'clearing house' which they called for in their original report.

But they point out that in the pilot of the new 'matching service' in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight there were 17,000 apprenticeship applicants registered but only 6,000 apprenticeship offered in the region each year.

The committee hopes that NAS will ensure that suitable potential apprentices are effectively matched with apprenticeship providers.

Responsibility for contacting employers and encouraging them to offer apprenticeship schemes should also be given to NAS says the committee. The current proposed arrangements are for the Learning and Skills Council's Train to Gain brokers to contact employers.

The committee points out that the Learning and Skills Council only has about 250 staff working on apprenticeships, which it feels is inadequate for the challenging role of encouraging employers to get involved in apprenticeships.

The committee says it ‘regrets’ that the government rejected its recommendation that funding for apprenticeships should be paid directly to employers.

It argues that paying money directly to employers providing apprenticeships would put them at the centre of apprenticeship provision and encourage small and medium enterprises to get more involved in apprenticeships.

Members point out that in much of Europe incentive payments are made directly to employers and argue that such an approach would encourage apprenticeship provision in the UK.

The report also considers how apprenticeships fit into the wider educational system. The committee has renewed its call to the government to make the transition from apprenticeship to higher education easier for those who want it.

Members say they are ‘left with the strong impression that the government is doing very little to establish a clear path from apprenticeships to higher levels of education’.

They also call on the government to do more to ensure that schools inform children fully about the options for taking up an apprenticeship and about the benefits of becoming an apprentice.

Lord Vallance, chairman of the Lords Economic Affairs Committee, said: "We are pleased the government is now taking steps to improve apprenticeship provision in the UK. For too long apprenticeships have been undervalued and inadequately supported by government and we hope this will now change.

"However we are disappointed that the new National Apprenticeship Service will not be directly accountable to a single minister. We feel this is vital to ensure that the political will and pressure to make the scheme a success is maintained.

"We also feel that more should be done to encourage small and medium business to offer apprenticeships. The best way to do this would be to pay fees directly to those firms rather than through bureaucratic quangos. We are disappointed the government has not taken this recommendation forward."

The report will be available online later today, along with details of the committee's original apprenticeship report here.


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