Championing quality and support in apprenticeships

Continued commitment and investment in apprenticeships is more important now than ever but embedding a quality learning journey and offering continued support is crucial to get the best outcomes for learners and industry - says David Phillips, Managing Director of City & Guilds

30 November 2022

Earlier this year the St Martins Group published their Apprenticeships Outcomes and Destinations report that investigated the reasons why many apprentices are not completing their apprenticeship programmes, and what steps could be taken to support them better.

By gaining insights into the challenges apprentices and employers face, and what leads many apprentices to dropping out, we can work to develop more effective outcomes and more impactful guidance for learners, employers and tutors alike.

With skills underpinning our chances of economic growth, we must work together across the apprenticeships eco-system to ensure that apprentices are getting the support they need.

The value of apprenticeships

The value and purpose of apprenticeships is very clear to us at City & Guilds, and always has been. Their history of producing the skills needed for the world of employment is evident.

Apprenticeships are crucial to enabling social mobility, creating talent pipelines, tackling skills shortages, and offering valuable careers paths not only to young people but to individuals throughout their careers. 

In fact the Social Mobility Foundation found that 92% of firms who run a scheme believe it leads to a more motivated and satisfied workforce, while 80% report higher retention rates. In addition, disadvantaged workers who complete an apprenticeship enjoy a bigger boost to earnings than their more privileged peers (16% vs 10%).

However, despite the clear and evidenced benefits of apprenticeships, since the employer-led standards launched in 2017 apprenticeship starts have fallen compared to the volume of learners on the previous frameworks, and those that do start may not complete their apprenticeship for a variety of reasons.

There is lots to explore in terms of the challenges here – from set up and support for apprentices to the education and skills ecosystem, the apprenticeship brand, careers guidance, and funding. The current trend of falling completions is a major concern.

Improving completion rates

The research from St Martin’s Group is an important step towards improving the quality of the apprenticeship system and highlighting the great work that is already being done.

The recommendations of the group included a greater emphasis on employer incentives to support completion, pastoral care and wraparound support, and provision of information to learners among others.

Setting up and supporting the apprentice has its challenges but we believe when employers and providers have close relationships, they can put the mechanisms in place to optimise the learning journey leading to a greater chance of success.

Making apprenticeships work

These themes of quality and support are quite familiar to us at City & Guilds as we have previously championed the theme of increasing quality through our 2019 report Making Apprenticeships Work.

Clearly quality within apprenticeship provision is paramount. Apprenticeships standards by their definition are designed to create the knowledge skills and behaviours apprentices require to fulfil industry need.

Only a few years ago we set out a quality model within our paper Making Apprenticeships Work, sponsored and driven by our own Industry Skills Board.

Our recommendations from that report included;

  1. Adopt and embed a Common Quality Framework to drive inspections and regulation
  2. Review and rationalise focus and purpose of the Standards
  3. Explore greater flexibility in shape and duration of programmes
  4. Ensure high quality in assessment plans and retain expert independent judgements
  5. Review and refocus meaningful measures for impact and success of the programme
  6. Increase promotion of apprenticeship opportunity in schools and recruitment channels
  7. Facilitate advance visibility of, and access to, apprenticeship offers
  8. Conduct research into employer engagement and decision making in apprenticeships
  9. Perform a holistic review of funding across DfE budgets to focus on employability outcomes

Since that time there has been some progress on many of these items, but there is still more work to be done.

Setting apprentices up for success

The need for a common framework to assess the quality of apprenticeships is clearly needed. Through consultation with skills credentialing organisations, employers and regulators, we would like to see the DfE develop a framework that details the key components of a high-quality apprenticeship. If it was to be established it could then be monitored through a robust inspection process to ensure that apprenticeships deliver on their potential, with a complete focus on workplace learning and skills.

Support and resources are needed across both employers and providers, so that they are fully equipped with a structure to support the apprentice. This should be defined and set out at the start, stretching across the entire on-programme period so that the EPA becomes that chance for the apprentice to shine, to showcase their acquired skills, knowledge and behaviours.

Working so closely with employers and providers we have found that thorough onboarding of the apprentice, coupled with a structured learning journey, has a great impact.  Scheduling regular reviews and offering feedback really keeps things on track, and early information on the end-point assessment process is vital to give the apprentice time to understand the requirements.

Recognising quality with the 5% Club

Recognising what good looks like is important to us, and this is why we are proud to be sponsoring the Quality Award at the 5% Club Awards on Wednesday 30 November.

The 5% club has a shared vision with City & Guilds in terms of skills development, whose purpose and vision aligns very closely to ours, as champions of the apprenticeships and skills agenda.

We are pleased to be sponsoring the Award for quality, to recognise and showcase the best examples of great work-based skills development programmes and the impact they have on learning and employment.

To find out more about the Awards visit The 5% club website.

For information and guidance on how we can support your apprenticeship delivery visit our dedicated webpage.