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Apprenticeships: government vows to sweep away red tape

12 September 2011

This government is certainly keen to be seen slashing red tape. We’ve had the recent Red Tape Challenge inviting comment from all sectors of the economy on unnecessary and burdensome bureaucracy, which, judging from my recent correspondence, some of you appear to have embraced with enthusiasm. Now, attention has turned to that all-important subject – employee skills, and to apprenticeships, in particular.

Mr Les Hunt
Mr Les Hunt

Last week, skills minister John Hayes unveiled a tranche of new measures to make it easier for employers to take on more apprentices. Now, firms that contract directly with the government to train apprentices will benefit from simplified payment, reporting and assessment requirements. They will also receive better guidance to help them manage the recruitment, training and assessment of apprentices more efficiently and cost effectively. The move is in response to recommendations of a review led by the Employer Reference Group, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and several large companies, including BT.

The CBI’s director for education and skills policy, Susan Anderson said that cutting bureaucracy should get more businesses involved in apprenticeship schemes. While these recommendations recognise that employers are primarily concerned with the day-to-day running of their businesses, she concedes, they also respect employers’ commitment to offering high-quality training on which their reputation and successful trading ultimately depend. Ms Anderson also noted that the money saved by reducing bureaucracy should support more apprenticeship places. The reforms will initially be targeted at SMEs who represent a significant market for apprenticeships, and for whom red tape is a hindrance to providing a good training regime.

Mr Hayes is determined that more employers and learners will have the opportunity to benefit from the government’s investment in apprenticeships. "Where red tape and bureaucracy deters employers from taking on apprentices, we’ll sweep it away," he says. "That will give more firms access to the skills they need to thrive, creating new jobs and new growth, and it will give many more individuals better prospects and the chance to gain a real stake in society."

The measures include a pilot for over 20 large employers who have volunteered to trial ‘payment by outcomes, which will eliminate a number of data returns and audit requirements. An online plain-English toolkit will be provided for employers, clearly explaining the end-to-end processes they need to undertake for apprenticeships.

Contracting arrangements will be streamlined, and there will be a commitment to no ‘in year’ changes to contracting arrangements. There will be a more proportionate approach to audit and inspection, thus reducing the preparation that employers currently have to undertake to meet these requirements, and there will be greater use of electronic information and a more streamlined certification process.

The employer-led apprenticeships programme is at the heart of the government’s skills reform. This year’s budget included an additional £150m to deliver 50,000 additional apprenticeships, and in July the Prime Minister announced details of a new ‘Higher Apprenticeships Fund’ to help key industries, including advanced manufacturing and engineering, develop the advanced skills needed to drive growth. The government says that funding is now in place for some 360,000 apprenticeships to be taken up this year, covering some 200 job roles.

Ann Watson, managing director of specialist awarding organisation, EAL (EMTA Awards Limited), applauds Mr Hayes when he promises to ‘sweep away the red tape’ which stands in the way of firms taking on apprentices. "The government has been extremely vocal about the engineering and manufacturing sector, putting it at the heart of the UK’s plan for export-led economic growth," she says. "Advanced manufacturing has a long tradition of apprenticeship engagement and given recent figures on UK output, it is right that firms in these sectors are supported to train more effectively, which will in turn stimulate growth." She also believes that the additional apprenticeship places must be concentrated in highly skilled industries, making it not just good for business, but good for the economy too.

The report "Employer Reference Group – Simplifying endtoend apprenticeship processes for employers" is available at

Les Hunt


Reader comments:

From Mr A D Griffiths:

I guess this is a definitely move in the right direction. But we need to air on the side of caution and not regard all bureaucracy as red tape especially where it gives protection and assurances to the young people who enter into apprenticeships hoping to come out at the other end with a recognized skill and qualifications for life. If the red tape is swept away in the manner promoted in the article, the risk is that there will be organizations who will dress up apprenticeships to gain cheap labour and tax breaks. There needs to be some assurances for both parties, let's hope these will be in place, otherwise the merits and value of apprenticeships may be diminished by lack of accountability from the start.

From Mr Nicolas Cudsi:

Interesting article. I am trying to find out what is on offer for my children. I would like to know what are the 200 job categories mentioned in your article and how is the information accessed for people to look at what is on offer, who is offering places, how many are available and where they are located? I am sure that one of the 360,000 places will be found to be suitable.

From Mr Rod Dalitz:

It is certainly true that "red tape" was mostly put in place with good intentions. However, like Health and Safety it can take on a life of its own and proliferate beyond reason.
There has been a lot of discussion about "jobs and the economy" especially in USA and I wish to make two points:

- The aim of increasing apprenticeships is excellent, as it provides immediate low-level jobs, and practical training for those apprentices to do valuable work in future.

- Now we are in the 21st century, I suspect that "jobs" is an old-fashioned idea  -  so many of the old jobs will be done better and more cheaply by robots and IT, even more so when the immigrants and third-world workers have moved up several levels. In the long term, it seems to me that the Western world must accept that low-paid jobs are a waste of time, and make adjustments to society.

What is the point of extending the retirement age, to encourage old people keep their jobs, which prevents young people taking those jobs and leaves them unemployed? In reality, the young people have a greater need of recognition and structure in their lives, whereas older people are better equipped to lead productive lives on their own, and probably need less money to do it.


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