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Jon Kennard


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Insight: Apprenticeships must provide more value for money


While adult apprenticeships provide a good return on public investment overall, value for money could be significantly improved by upping standards in line with other European countries, the government spending watchdog has advised.
The report by the National Audit Office, released only days before the start of National Apprenticeship Week next week, revealed that, while only a third of on-the-job training schemes in England were provided at an advanced level (equivalent to two A-levels), the same was true of three out of five in France.
But the NAO estimated that advanced apprenticeships yielded higher returns that intermediate ones. As result, the Apprenticeship Programme could provide significantly more value for money if resources were targeted more effectively.
Although the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the National Apprenticeship Service have not so far targeted specific sectors on the basis of economic return, they have indicated that they are prepared to do so in future.
But, while BIS estimated that adult apprenticeships generated a return of £28 for every £1 of public money spend, the NAO reckoned it was probably more like £18, but has commissioned research to establish for certain.
Amyas Morse, the watchdog’s head, said that, although the scheme had been providing a “good” return on public spending, the BIS should “set its sights higher in order to get better value from the £0.5 billion and rising now spend on adult apprenticeships each year.”
To this end, it needed to “target resources more effectively; confirm the training provided is in addition to what would have been provided without public support, and make sure that the funding system is informed by robust information on the cost of delivery”, he added.
The NAO’s report also found that the Apprenticeship Programme had expanded by 140% between the 2006/7 and 2010/11 academic years, with over 25 year olds accounting for 68% of this increase, spread across only 10 occupations.
Both apprentices and inspectors were generally positive about the quality of schemes, however, with 91% of the former saying they were satisfied with their training. But the watchdog warned that the Programme’s rapid expansion generated risks that had to be managed.
For example, one area of concern in 2010/11 was that 34,600 or 19% of all apprenticeships lasted for only six months rather than the expected minimum of a year.
As to whether training providers were creaming off profits at public expense or incurring losses, meanwhile, it was currently unclear, the report said. The problem was the lack of clarity on the rates paid by the Skills Funding Agency on behalf of the National Apprenticeship Service as they were not based on sufficiently “robust” information.
What was clear, however, was that some employers were failing to pay the expected contribution towards training providers’ costs, it added.
This article first appeared on our sister site HRzone

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Jon Kennard

Freelance writer

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