Restoring ‘economic competitiveness’. Will apprenticeships provide the answer?

young-people-main-image1Michael Gove’s   determination to hold education entirely responsible for the UK’s failing international competitiveness  is mirrored elsewhere. The week before Gove announced his latest GCSE proposals, David Cameron also called for a ‘new era’ of  apprenticeships  (  with  more academic assessment, particularly in maths and English.

Cameron’s  announcement was  also a  response to recommendations in the Richards Report commissioned by the Coalition, (  which outlined many of the current shortcomings of current schemes. Though the number is growing, 70 % of employers still do not offer apprenticeships (Guardian 08/10/13).

According to Department for Business, Innovation and Skills own research for example, 7% of apprenticeships last for less than six months, just under half last less than a year and only 22% longer than two years  ( .   Evidence that accompanied the Richards review also shows that 70% of apprentices previously worked for their employer –in otherwords   an apprenticeship merely involved a change in job title rather than a recruitment from outside. (

Nevertheless, almost 370 000 young people still submitted online applications through the National Apprenticeship Service  between February and April 2013. This represented an increase of 32%, but increases in vacancies only totalled 15% (Independent 31/05/2013). The vast majority of adverts are at Intermediate (GCSE) level. Out of 15432 vacancies (NAS website 05/11/13) there were only 1894 Advanced  and only 210 Higher level apprenticeships available, so it’s hardly surprising that young people still apply to university in their droves and that there remains over a million NEETS.

Business and Administration was the most popular area for applications. For example, the NAS website  (  displayed 5849 Business vacancies. This compares with 1456 vacancies in Engineering and Manufacturing (there won’t be many in the shipbuilding industry, that’s for sure).

Even if 60 of the Uk’s  leading businesses have responded to Cameron’s latest call. without other major changes to economic policy, it’s most  unlikely that employers will be able to sustain the number of apprentices, or more particularly, the types of apprenticeships that Cameron encourages them to establish. The Richards evidence shows, for example, that by over a quarter of employers took on an apprentice only because they were approached by a training provider, with only 12% referring to the need for qualified staff .


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