Monday, 5 November 2012

Exposing the Apprenticeship racket!

Although the government has invested £1.4 bn on its apprenticeship policy there has been considerable criticism for  some time now, about whether the taxpayer is getting value for money. There have been allegations of 'fake' apprenticeships and criticism of the practice of 'converting', where existing employees are being labelled apprentices so that an employer can claim a government subsidy for training their staff through a 'learning provider' who also claims a fee. Others also point to the low number of 16 to 18-year-olds who are being taken on as apprentices under the governments' policy, and question the value of many of these apprenticeships, in terms of their labour market value.

The supermarket giant, Morrisons, is one of the countries biggest providers of apprenticeships. In 2010/11, they started more than 18,000 level 2 retail apprenticeships which are equivalent to a GCSE. Most of the apprentices learn 'retail skills' for an average of 6 months. However, most of their apprentices are over the age of 25 years and are existing employees. Indeed, last year the over 25s acounted for 75% of all apprentices in the U/K and there are even apprentices aged over 60 years old. Last year the government also gave £8m to City and Guilds to train 25,000 apprentices working for ASDA.

'Competence-based qualifications', which were introduced in the late 1980s, allow individuals to gain qualifications for skills they already have instead of attending training courses to retrain or to upskill. The practice of 'converting' existing employees to apprentices allows the government to increase the number of adults with qualifications within the workforce, which lifts the UK up the international league tables. England is the only country in Europe, where apprenticeships at level 2 far outnumber those at the higher level 3. Customer service, health and social care, and retail, are now the sectors with most apprentices and the average length of an apprenticeship in the U/K, is one or two years, with some lasting as little as 12 weeks.

In Germany, France and Switzerland, apprenticeships can take three to four years to complete and are a passport to a good job and real opportunity. Most of these apprenticeships are at the higher level 3 and are equivalent to A-level-type qualifications. Some apprentices, are also working towards a foundation degree. However, in the U/K, many employers do not feel that there is any value in training apprentices. In 2011, a survey conducted by the human resources provider 'Adecco Group', found that 57% of employers did not have an apprenticeship programme, and only 51% , thought they were cost effective.

Due to the outcry about bogus and fake apprenticeships, the minister responsible for apprenticeships, John Heyes, wrote to the National Apprenticship Service, asking them to scrutinise the quality level of apprenticeships to ensure that skill levels were maintained. But despite this, it would seem that some of these so-called apprenticeships would appear to be of little value in terms of offering proper skills, and little more than a means for obtaining labour for less than the National Minimum Wage (NMW).  Last month, Jobcentre Plus, advertised this vacancy for an 'APPRENTICE CUSTOMER SERVICE' based in a tea room in Stalybridge in Greater Manchester:

Job No: STC/14341 - Employer Reference: SDTS - Wage: £2.65 per hour. Hours: 5 days.
Location: Stalybridge Cheshire. Duration: Permanent. "This is an Apprenticeship. A Stalybridge based tea rooms is seeking a customer service apprentice. Full training will be provided as part of this role by Plato Training. We are looking for a keen and committed person who is seeking a career in customer service. The role will include: serving customers hot and cold drinks and food. Cleaning and keeping the premises clean. Taking orders and waitress service. You must have good communication and presentation skills. The role is full time. Full training is provided and you will work towards your QCF Certificate in Customer Service. If you are looking for a company that will provide you with training and support, this is the post for you. This is a Government funded Apprenticeship and funding is guaranteed for 16-24 yeard olds, although anyone can apply...This vacancy meets the requirements of the National Minimum Wage Act."

In her report on vocational training, which was produced for the government, Professor Alison Wolf of King's College, stated that many of these apprenticeships had "little or no market value" and judging from the above example, it is not difficult to see why. Nevertheless, young people in this country, have a right to proper techincal and practical education and it serves no one to pretend, that 'micky mouse' courses in 'customer services' amounts to the same thing.

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