04 May 2018
Assembly Members will hold a debate on Apprenticeships in Wales in Plenary on Wednesday 9 May following the publication of the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee’s report on apprenticeships and the subsequent Welsh Government response to that report.
The Economy, Infrastructure and Skills (EIS) Committee have been investigating some of the current issues around apprenticeships in Wales. Some of these issues were first raised by its predecessor, the Enterprise and Business Committee, in its Apprenticeships in Wales report, published in 2012.
More recently, from November 2016 to March 2017, the EIS Committee had previously conducted a short piece of work looking at the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy and the impact it would have on businesses in Wales. During that work, a number of wider issues relating to apprenticeships in Wales were brought to the Committee’s attention. As a result it decided to launch a new Inquiry to look at these wider issues in April 2017.
Overview of the Inquiry
The Apprentices in Wales 2017 Inquiry was designed to investigate the Welsh Government’s progress on issues such as the:
- Apprenticeship Matching Service;
- parity of esteem between academic and vocational routes;
- barriers to taking up apprenticeships;
- gender stereotyping across different apprenticeship trades;
- development of higher level apprenticeships; and
- engagement of employers with the system.
The Committee’s consultation ran from 4 April 2017 to 3 May 2017, and received 26 written responses. Following the consultation, on 11 May, the Committee visited BT for a roundtable discussion event with BT apprentices who were undertaking a range of apprenticeships. Members then visited The Prince’s Trust for a second roundtable discussion event with young people, to gain an understanding of those who may not have undertaken an apprenticeship. It also took oral evidence at its meetings on 17 May and 7 June 2017, where it took evidence from Julie James AM, the then Minister for Skills and Science (‘the Minister’).
Following consideration of the evidence in Autumn 2017 and its concerns around the provision of careers advice in Wales, the Committee then invited Careers Wales to give further evidence on 23 November 2017.
The Apprenticeships in Wales 2017 report
The EIS Committee published its report on Apprenticeships in Wales in February 2018. It contained 14 recommendations and 17 conclusions. The recommendations focused on making apprenticeships more accessible for:
- people with disabilities, calling on the Welsh Government to develop a specific action plan to achieve this;
- Welsh Language speakers, asking the Welsh Government to set a target for the number of Welsh medium apprenticeships;
- people from low income households, suggesting the introduction of a universal grant to cover living costs for apprenticeships and the creation of a hardship fund, or a concessionary travel scheme, for apprenticeships, as exists for students in higher or further education; and
- men or women seeking to enter a heavily gender stereotyped profession via an apprenticeship.
To spur action on these issues, the Committee has called for annual updates from the Welsh Government regarding the numbers of people with protected characteristics and from low income houses taking up apprenticeships in Wales.
The Committee pushed for greater Welsh Government action on degree apprenticeships, given the concerns that Wales has fallen far behind England in this regard, which is expected to have 7,600 degree apprentices in 2017/18 (as compared to no degree apprentices in Wales at present). Consequently the report called on the Welsh Government to set a deadline for the commencement of new degree level apprenticeships in Wales and for it to provide them with an annual update on its progress.
The Committee also sought biannual updates on the Welsh Government’s progress in developing Employability programme, originally due in April 2018, but now expected to start in April 2019.
The Committee’s final two recommendations called on the Welsh Government to encourage its partners to better engage with the common area prospectus and to review how it can incentivise schools to provide better careers advice.
Welsh Government response
The Welsh Government responded to the Committee’s report on 1 May 2018. Overall it accepted 5 recommendations, accepted an additional 5 more in principle and rejected 4.
The Welsh Government accepted the recommendations calling for more action on reducing gender stereotyping across apprenticeships, increasing access for disabled people and increasing the number of Welsh medium apprenticeships available.
The Welsh Government also accepted the need to support degree apprenticeships and it agreed to provide the Committee with an update on its work in that regard in October 2018. However it did refuse to set a deadline for first teaching of degree apprenticeships (see below).
In accepting these recommendation the Welsh Government argues that as work has already been done or is underway, funding to support their implementation ‘will be drawn from existing programme budgets’.
Recommendations accepted in principle
The Welsh Government accepted in principle the Committee’s call for increased support for apprentices from low income households. In terms of the universal grant for living costs, the Welsh Government highlights the review of the post-18 education sector in England, which will include financial support to disadvantaged students. The Welsh Government reports that it
awaits the panel’s report [in early 2019] in order to help us determine our approach in Wales.
The Welsh Government accepted the call for a hardship fund or concessionary travel pass for apprenticeships in principle stating the
consultation on “Discounted Bus Travel for Young Persons in Wales” focused on delivering more effective local bus services, including offering discounted bus travel to apprentices.
It argues that a competitive hardship fund would need to be considered against the outcome of that consultation, which is yet to be announced.
The Welsh Government also accepted in principle the calls for updates on the employability programme and the number of people with protected characteristics taking up apprenticeships as well as the need to meet with colleges and Y Coleg Cymraeg to discuss support for Welsh medium apprenticeships.
The Welsh Government rejected the Committees calls to provide more support for employers to raise awareness of the benefits of apprenticeships amongst young people, stating that it already provides ‘extensive information on the benefits and opportunities that apprenticeships provide’. It also rejected calls to encourage schools and other partners to improve the level and quality of careers advice based on the argument that ‘there is already a wealth of quality information, advice and support in place to help young people’.
The recommendation to set a deadline for the teaching of degree level apprenticeships, was rejected with the Welsh Government arguing that it has made a budget available to HEFCW to develop and deliver degree apprenticeships and it is now down to individual universities to ‘determine when delivery commences’. However, it is expected that an initial, limited offering of degree apprenticeships will be available from September 2018.
The Welsh Government also rejected the call to consider how it could encourage all partners to participate fully in the common area prospectus as it believes that it ‘would be appropriate to mandate all providers to upload their offers onto the Common Area Prospectus’. However it did report that it will work
to raise awareness of the Prospectus and its benefits across schools, colleges and work based learning providers with a view to increasing the number of providers including their provision on the Prospectus.
The Assembly will debate the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee’s report in Plenary on 9th May 2018. You will be able to watch the debate online at www.senedd.tv or read the transcript on the Record of Proceedings.
Following that debate, the Committee will continue to monitor the Welsh Government’s work on supporting current and future apprentices achieve their aspirations.
Article by Joseph Champion, National Assembly for Wales Research Service