British Commission: UK Apprenticeships ‘Failing Young People’

(Photo: João Silas. Creative Commons)

(Photo: João Silas, Creative Commons)

The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commissions has released a report saying that the UK government’s push to expand the number of young people in apprenticeships has “flat-lined.”

The British Conservative government has been advocating the expansion of apprenticeships as part of its education policy since its advent to power in 2010. The recent commission report reveals, however, that apprenticeships have not provided young people with the necessary experience to attain success and have hardly increased for young people under 24.

Almost the whole increase in individuals serving in apprenticeships pertained to individuals over 24. The BBC reports that for people younger than 25, the rate of apprenticeships rose by 4% from 2010 – 2014. By contrast, the number of apprenticeships rose by 17% for individuals over 25. There were even fewer apprenticeships available in 2011-2012 than there were in 2014-2015.

Moreover, the report finds that most apprentices are not taking a “step up” and continuing with their mentor, thus calling into question the very legitimacy of an apprenticeship. William Eichler of the British website LocalGov notes that most youth apprenticeships are in areas like health and social services, that are hallmarked by low pay and poor job advancement rates.

“The number of young apprentices has flat-lined since 2010, and many of these apprenticeships don’t offer young people a foundation they can build on. The Government needs to increase the quality of apprenticeships on offer to young people and make sure that every apprenticeship offers a genuine route to success,” Alan Milburn, leader of the independent commission, said. The commission, while critical, should not be read as a statement against apprenticeships. It welcomed the government’s call to expand apprenticeships and hopes that its findings can prod the government into action.

Charlie Cooper of The Independent writes that the report calls for an increase in the number of young people doing higher-level apprenticeships to 30,000. Today, 4,200 young people in the 19 – 24 demographic are serving in such apprenticeships. The government has much bigger expectations; it hopes to lay the groundwork to have facilitated over 3 million apprenticeships by 2020.

The government defended its policy of attempting to expand apprenticeships, saying that, “Apprenticeships give school leavers the opportunity to gain the skills they need to get on. We are committed to increasing the number of young people starting apprenticeships and to driving up quality. Our reforms mean apprenticeships are more rigorously tested, last longer, and are more responsive to the needs of employers.” The official spokesperson promised that an extra £25 million is being allocated to recruiting 16 to 18-year-olds into apprenticeships in support of its ambitious goals.

As in the US, there is a perception in the UK that apprenticeships, or, in American parlance, vocational training, are for “other people’s children.” College is the more socially respectable route for young people, but in a changing economy, law and policymakers are beginning to rethink the opportunities afforded by vocational training. In the U.S., the Obama administration has launched various programs emphasizing universities’ job placement rates and students’ employment readiness, and all the Republican and Democratic presidential hopefuls are promising to revive vocational training.