Opinion: Beware false promises on apprenticeships

At the Conservative Party Conference George Osborne made the startling announcement that there was to be 3 million new apprentices. Just like that.

At first this seemed to be astonishing,  however” informed sources” tell me it is 3 million over the whole 2015 – 2020 period, in other words the story was being “spun”.

I served a traditional apprenticeship and found that eventually lead me indirectly to a higher degree in a Russell Group University, so apprenticeships are something I take continuing interest in.

With this I am inclined to ask the question, how many of these apprenticeship positions are actually new jobs as opposed to employers re branding pre-existing or extrapolated jobs as apprentices?

There are two immediate problems with this. Firstly, conjuring up apprentices by developing financial incentives for employers  will not in the long run increase real sustainable jobs. This has been tried over many decades since the Youth Opportunities Programme and carries the danger that young people and their parents may think they have a “secure future” only to find it is a false hope. It may be a false hope as there may be too many apprentices being taken on for a given industry UK wide. In addition to this, a given industry may be contracting. It is not in the training organisations interest to tell potential apprentices this; it is in their advantage to talk up an industry.

In addition, compared with a traditional apprenticeship which was in many ways the equivalent to the O-Levels and A-Levels it paralleled, many modern apprenticeships seem to have a lack of academic rigour thus leaving those who have completed them at a disadvantage if considering higher education.

On a more practical level, if a job is worth having there will be a sifting procedure in place whether this is to be a barrister, an army officer, or indeed, a driving instructor or a train driver. This filtering process consists of would be participants being removed from the process, possibly at various points in the “recruitment” process; it is this that makes these jobs desirable.

If you see an Apprenticeship where, in theory, those attending all pass, treat it with caution, it may be someone’s, even the Chancellor’s, spin.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • There are about 900,000 apprentices at present so if Cameron’s speech had its normal meaning the programme would be more than three times the size it is today – and there would be an additional cost of some £3.5 billion a year to add to the other unfunded aspects of the Tory programme.

    As it is he probably means achieving 3 million starts over the period of the next Parliament. That is something like a 20% increase in the cost of the present programme so only £0.3 billion of unfunded spending commitments.

    Roughly three quarters of those who start apprenticeship programmes complete them successfully.

  • Frank Booth 3rd Oct '14 - 5:39pm

    The Tories have gone for the Lib Dem jugular. It is time for the Lib Dems to return the favour. If the party doesn’t then it can expect to be eviscerated by those who have no qualms about playing dirty and Clegg can keep using it as his own plaything.

    Its the same scenario for anyone in an abusive relationship. Allow yourself to be treated like a doormat and your partner will continue to oblige.

  • @ Frank Booth

    Yes, I think you’re totally right. It’s really time to stick it to the Tories. They’ve really surpassed themselves this conference by the number of downright nasty and often unaffordable commitments they’ve made. We need to win back the 10-15% of voters who think that, because we’ve held them in check since 2010 and forced them to do things like equal marriage, that the Tories are OK to vote for.

    The big message from the past week is that they’re anything but. It’s one we need to be hammering home in our leaflets and on the doorstep.

  • In fact, looking at the latest Yougov which has us on 6%, some 23% of our 2010 voters are now with the Tories. That is 5% of the total vote we’d like back, thank you very much. Add in another 16% who’ve gone to Don’t Know and we’re up at 15%, which is just about enough to save us from oblivion next year.

    There is no reason why any of our voters should have turned to the Tories, but as with the Don’t Knows and even more so for Labour defectors, we’ve got a mountain to climb in winning them back.

    Pointing out the false promises made by the other parties should be part of that.

  • Stephen Hesketh 3rd Oct '14 - 7:17pm

    Beware false promises on apprenticeships … fine … but as Basil Fawlty might have said, “Don’t mention the tuition fees”.

    Knowing the Tories, they may well be zero hour apprenticeships.

    Everyone knows Labour and the Tories lie but Clegg not making tuition fees a red line issue will live with us for decades. We were the party that was supposed to be different. Yes, we do need to come out fighting but for that you need a passionate belief in something somewhat more inspiring than simply being somewhere between the other parties.

  • Stephen Donnelly 3rd Oct '14 - 11:07pm

    We should also be aware of the devaluation of the idea of an apprenticeship. Often it is just away of getting round minimum wage regulations, involves very little training.

    If we are serious about the role that apprenticeships can play in training young people we should introduce better minimum standards.

  • @ Stephen Donnelly – all this was true under Labour but is it still true? Can you provide recent examples? I believe Vince Cable cracked down on spurious supermarket apprenticeships and set standards for off the job training and minimum periods to be served in the apprenticeship.

  • How many people recall the 1980s when the Tories came up with the Youth Training Scheme(YTS) which undermined the apprenticeship based on a 5 (subsequently 4) year agreement between employer and parent which I was fortunate to enjoy. YTS was an easy option.
    As a dinosaur I find it hard to see why the responsibility has been taken over by Government when it must surely be in the interest of employers. Better that it does but………??

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