Great Expectations: Three Steps to a World-Class Apprenticeship System

28 November 2023 Kate Bines

Apprenticeships boost life chances for younger people and are key to adapting to changing economy, says new report

Great Expectations: Three Steps to a World-Class Apprenticeship System

A new report makes key recommendations for reforming the apprenticeships system to boost life chances for younger people and help the UK benefit from how the economy is being reshaped by factors such as technological change and decarbonisation. 

Following additional funding for apprenticeships recently announced at the Autumn Statement, this new research – commissioned by the Gatsby Foundation and undertaken by leading skills policy expert Simon Field – outlines a number of changes to the apprenticeships system.  

These are designed to help support more people into well-paid jobs and help them adapt to trends such as increasing automation and the rising demand for ‘green jobs’ that are changing the skills needed in the modern workforce.  

Drawing on best practice from overseas, and a decade of data in England, Great Expectations: Three Steps to a World-Class Apprenticeship System outlines policy recommendations in three areas:  

  1. Ensuring a career foundation — by broadening standards; strengthening the inclusion of transferable competencies in these standards; and establishing a formal name for the apprenticeship qualification; 
  2. Improving the quality of training and clarifying the offer — by simplifying and enforcing the off-the-job training requirement; supporting and developing on-the-job training; and clarifying the apprenticeship offer; 
  3. Reviving youth apprenticeships — by improving the incentives for youth apprenticeships – where there’s full funding, the remaining levy funds should be used flexibly; and broadening the T-level transition programme to prepare young people for T-levels and apprenticeships.

Despite positive developments over the last decade, such as putting employers at the heart of the apprenticeship system and introducing more rigorous assessments, this new report identifies a number of key issues that need tackling by policymakers, including: 

  • Participation in apprenticeships by those under 19 having fallen by 32% over the last five years; 

  • The introduction of the apprenticeship levy has encouraged larger firms to take on more apprentices, but it may have decreased the appetite of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to do so; 

  • The greater regulation of apprenticeships has coincided with a decrease in apprenticeship completion.

Daniel Sandford-Smith, Director of Programmes at Gatsby said: “Apprenticeships are a well-established route into skilled employment for young people, and have been delivering both economic impact and social mobility for hundreds of years. We need to build on the best in the current system to remove the barriers to more SMEs offering high quality apprenticeships which can equip young people with the knowledge, skills and behaviours that will lead them to long and worthwhile careers. 

“Now more than ever, they need to evolve, with more opportunities especially from SMEs for younger apprentices, an emphasis on transferable skills, and a focus on occupational standards. Delivery should be within a clear technical education framework which focuses on quality, completion, and success.” 

Simon Field, author of the report, said: “Apprenticeships are one of the best tools we have for delivering job and career skills, and the English system has made real progress.  But we have some way to go for all apprenticeships to display the world-beating quality already found in our strongest examples. We can and should have great expectations of apprenticeship: drawing on international experience, this report sets out the reforms that will realise those expectations.” 

Download Great Expectations: Three Steps To A World-Class Apprenticeship System [PDF]

Great Expectations: Three Steps to a World-Class Apprenticeship System