While the headline of this morning’s Guardian’s is correct, it’s analysis falls far short…….
It is not possible for the UK to emulate the German apprenticeship model. This continues to be based on a ‘social partnership’ where employers, trade unions and local state institutions work together to plan skill and employment targets, but also take implicit responsibility for young people’s transition from school to work.
UK apprenticeships have been in trouble well before the introduction of the levy. As the editorial notes, being operated on a free market ‘business knows best’ approach has led to inappropriate use of funding by individual employers. But while there is evidence of money being used on trainee executives, until relatively recently, the majority of apprenticeships have been at GCSE equivalent – a level that most young people have already reached. Barely lasting a year and without guarantee of progression, this was never going to create the ‘high skills’ economy, for which governments continue to yearn.
Besides, in contrast to Germany, apprenticeships in the UK have never been officially designated for young people. Only now, are those under 24 in the majority (the editorial is misleading about this) – though just one in four starts, much less at higher level, are by those under 19 and only one in twelve by 17-year olds.
Poor rates of productivity in the UK are primarily the consequence of a jobs, not a skills problem. With the labour market churning out as many low-skilled, low paid positions as professional ‘careers’ and with the disappearance of the ‘middle’ jobs with which apprenticeships were once associated, who can blame young people opting for university.