During the election, Tory promises to young people never got much further than David Cameron’s pledge to create another 3 million apprenticeships during the next parliament. He provided few other details apart from outlining how the new opportunities would be at least part financed by cutting benefits for unemployed young people.
As well as promising another 3 million, the Conservative manifesto pledged to ‘roll out Degree Apprenticeships’ –by this we assume it meant more Higher Level schemes. Cameron, took advantage of pre-election media attention, launched a new Whitbread scheme, announcing he wanted apprenticeships to be on level-pegging with a university degree giving millions more people the dignity of work and a regular pay packet (BBC Election 2015, 09/04/15); but the new apprenticeships were at the subsidiary Costa Coffee and were part of a programme, which as well as teaching how to make hot drinks, included customer service, communication and team-building skills (!)
With the election days away, Cameron also promised that £227 million raised from Deutsche Bank Libor fines would be used to create 40 000 apprenticeships for 22-24 year olds who’d been out of work for 6 months (The Guardian 28/01/15). In fact the Tories plan to abolish long term youth unemployment, by replacing the Job Seekers Allowance with a US ‘workfare’ style Youth Allowance, where failure to accept a training offer or participate in voluntary and community work will lead to this being withdrawn.
Regardless of Cameron’s intentions though, government has little control over how many apprenticeships are created, let alone at what level they are being offered. Unlike the ‘nationalised’ German system –often cited as a successful model to emulate and where apprenticeship numbers are planned by employers, state and trade unions, where training is tightly regulated and where an apprenticeship provides a ‘licence to practice’, the UK depends on apprenticeships being generated largely by market forces and employer demand. New arrangements currently being piloted, will defer further, decisions about recruitment and training to individual employers.
With the post-crash economy generating four low skilled, low paid jobs for every skilled, professional or managerial opportunity however, it’s questionable whether most employers want apprentices. This is the main reason why, even if the proportion of young people on apprenticeships has risen, overall numbers have stalled. Even though the Coalition created over 2 million, many of these have involved existing employers being ‘converted’ to apprentices or have been ‘intermediate’ level, equivalent to the GCSEs that most young people already have and without guarantees of future employment or progression. Rather than needing ‘degree level’ apprentices, employers also have thousands of underemployed graduates that they can draw on