Three key flaws with apprenticeships that need to be fixed in Wales

(Title Image: Coleg Gwent)

Economy & Infrastructure Committee
Apprenticeships (pdf)
Published: 14th February 2018

Chair’s Statement, Russell George AM (Con, Montgomery):

“We were surprised that the number of disabled apprentices in Wales was far below the rate achieved in England. We were concerned that a lack of providers may be preventing young people undertaking apprenticeships through the medium of Welsh, and we heard of the economic barriers – the cost of travel, a suit for interviews etc –which can prevent young people from taking up opportunities.”

1. Apprenticeships require a positive awareness campaign

The Committee was concerned about lack of progress in promoting apprenticeships as part of careers advice in schools. The quality and availability of good careers advice were said to be issues in themselves due to significant cuts in funding to Careers Wales, but schools are also continuing to encourage post-16 pupils to take up A-Levels.

The Committee believe Estyn (the school inspectorate) should assess the level of careers advice – in particular how vocational options and apprenticeships were promoted. Better careers advice could prevent time and money “being wasted” by young people who start academic courses (or even complete them) only to end up doing an apprenticeship or vocational course in the end anyway.

2. Apprenticeships “aren’t fully representative of society”

  • Gender – There’s still widespread gender “segregation” based on stereotypical attitudes towards work. Less than 5% of engineering and construction apprentices are women, yet they made up more than 90% of childcare and hairdressing apprentices. This is despite the numbers of men and women taking up apprenticeships being broadly equal.
  • Disability – Less than 3% of people on work-based learning courses or apprenticeships are disabled in Wales, compared to 9% in England. This is despite around 20% of the Welsh population having some form of disability. Remploy recommended a hard target for the number of disabled apprentices, with other witnesses suggested pre-apprenticeship programmes for the disabled.
  • Welsh-speakers – The Welsh Language Commissioner said there were a number of issues relating to Welsh-use in apprenticeships such as lack of Welsh-medium apprenticeships (which results in a lack of demand) and a lack of bilingual assessors. There has been some progress with the number of programmes using Welsh rising from just 2.7% to 12% in only four years.

3. Apprentices need financial support similar to university students

Financial costs associated with apprenticeships were said to be a major obstacle – in particular, the cost of travel to a learning centre and the cost of living. Apprenticeships wages are very low and while the Welsh Government’s new student support package takes the living wage into account, there’s nothing like that for apprenticeships.

Possible solutions suggested by witnesses include advanced payments to cover the initial costs of starting training/employment and bursaries for those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The Committee believed there was a “moral case” for similar financial support as that provided to full-time students and recommended introducing a universal grant to cover the living costs of apprentices – especially as there are moves for increasing numbers of apprentices to achieve degree-level vocational qualifications to drive “parity of esteem” between vocational and academic courses.

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