Executive summary

The government’s apprenticeship reform programme, English Apprenticeships: Our 2020 Vision announced in 2015, set the target for three million apprenticeship starts by 2020, and articulated a vision for a broad, high-quality apprenticeships ecosystem open to all – driving excellence in skills and powerful employment outcomes. Apprenticeships were envisioned as an engine of social mobility. 

Access to apprenticeships amongst learners from deprived backgrounds

Apprenticeships are unique in that they have no access gap. Pupils from deprived backgrounds are just as likely to join an apprenticeship as their less deprived peers, whereas for the most selective universities, deprived pupils are 43% less likely to attend. It is concerning to see that higher-level (levels 4 and 5) apprenticeships have a lower representation of learners from deprived backgrounds. But crucially, there are meaningful variations between different providers and different apprenticeships. For example, some technical apprenticeships have 18% more learners from deprived backgrounds than the national average.

RECOMMENDATION 01: Create greater transparency on the social mobility performance of apprenticeship providers, through centralised collection and publication of intake data.

Much of the difference in access may be due to awareness. A majority of apprentices said their teachers had not discussed apprenticeship options with them, and similarly a majority of teachers said they would rarely or never advise their high-performing students to choose an apprenticeship over university. A more innovative and proactive approach is needed to raise awareness and break down awareness barriers amongst both staff and pupils in schools.

RECOMMENDATION 02: Increase publicity and targeted outreach to schools, teachers and career counsellors to increase recognition and awareness of apprenticeships as a valid route into employment.

Pay whilst on an apprenticeship

Pay is a critical element of social mobility. Whilst those actively completing an apprenticeship are guaranteed a stable income, there are stark differences in pay whilst on programme. Nationally, approximately 20% of level 2/3 apprentices are paid the apprenticeship minimum wage (£3.90 per hour). In comparison, QA finds its technology-focussed higher level apprenticeships pay significantly more, with almost a third paying between £17,500 and £25,000 per year, and 15% paying over £25,000. Similarly, on average 43% of apprentices receive a pay rise whilst on programme, but QA finds for higher level technology-focussed apprenticeships this reaches 78%. The current apprenticeship minimum wage is too low for independent living, and in many cases those apprentices depend on familial subsidy. Employers, apprenticeship providers and government need to recognise that very low wage apprenticeships are not conducive to social mobility.

RECOMMENDATION 03:  Abolish the lower apprenticeship minimum wage, and classify apprenticeships as ‘in employment’ and qualifying for national minimum and living wages for the commensurate age group.

Employment outcomes after completing an apprenticeship

Nearly all apprentices report that they had seen beneficial impacts on their career. The majority felt they were better at doing their job, and felt satisfied in their job since starting an apprenticeship. However, this report finds there is (yet again) significant variation between programmes and providers in how that translates into pay. Nationally, approximately half of apprentices at level 2/3 received a pay rise on completing their apprenticeship. For QA’s (majority technical and higher level) programmes, 92% of apprentices saw a pay rise. Higher pay is of course a positive outcome in and of itself, but it also recognises that an employee’s productivity, skill set and economic value to the employer and the economy has grown – and that the employer is happy to pay more for their work as a result. It is clear that some apprenticeships offer a much better economic return on investment for the employer and the economy. Funding should be directed towards these programmes.

RECOMMENDATION 04: Actively skew apprenticeships funding towards programmes with the highest return on investment, in high value-add sectors or in skill-shortage areas; supporting employers to take on more apprentices to close the skills gap.

However, it is difficult to track post-programme outcomes for apprentices. The current government survey dataset is published every two years, and the granularity available between different levels, programmes and providers is insufficient to inform individual, provider or employer choices. Tracking is particularly important now there are progression routes allowing an apprentice to complete successive programmes from GCSE through to degree level. To make informed assessments of the economic and social impact of different programmes and the policy as a whole, there needs to be step-change in the way data is collected and published.

RECOMMENDATION 05: Implement a standardised on- and post-programme census for all providers (collecting programme, economic, and social data), and publish in data dashboards in a model similar to that used for schools.

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