Apprenticeship misperceptions

Posted on 31 Aug 2012

The Holt Review has revealed shortcomings in the national system for delivering suitable apprentice candidates to small and medium-sized businesses, despite the millions of pounds poured into the system.

Two issues raised in the Holt Review are fundamental: 1) the view that an apprenticeship is a ‘second best’ choice to an ‘A’ Level and university degree route to work is still widely espoused, sometimes by  influential stakeholders (see below), and 2) that SMEs, particularly, are not receiving a satisfactory service in apprenticeship delivery.

While it could be argued that the employer has a responsibility to learn about the different means of receiving apprenticeship assistance, the landscape for applying for apprenticeships still needs simplifying.

TM documents a catalogue of mixed messages and misperceptions about the value of apprenticeships in the manufacturing sector:


Universities and Science Minister David Willetts, Tweeted by bisgovuk on August 16:

David Willetts made the announcement today. Photography: BIS.
Science Minister David Willetts

“If you haven’t got the #Alevel grades, remember that an #apprenticeship is another option:

Inconsistent with calls from Skills Minister John Hayes and Business Minister Mark Prisk to promote apprenticeship as an aspirational career route equal to higher education.



Director-general of the CBI John Cridland, speaking to TM in July.

CBI boss John Cridland

[Speaking on NEETS – people not in education, employment or training] “The Neet problem lies here: If you have got between one third and a half of all young people every year leaving school without five GCSEs grades A-C, then you’ve got a group of young people who should be available for engineering apprenticeships and the rest, slipping into that Neet category. That’s how an inward investor to Britain would look at Neets, linked to an insufficient supply of skilled labour.”



Many NVQ engineering apprenticeships require five GCSEs grade A-C to qualify


Business Secretary Vince Cable, speaking to a TM editor at the MACH trade show in

Vince Cable at MACH 2012
Business Secretary Vince Cable at MACH 2012

April about the importance of apprenticeships. Recently, funding for the sector skills councils had been reallocated and Semta had received funding, at the expense of Proskills, another SSC.

TM: “Do you think Semta is effective in delivering the apprenticeships that employers need in this field, precision engineering and the machine tools industry?”

Vince Cable: “Sorry, what is Semta?” [TM reporter checked he’d not misheard the word]

Dr Cable delivered a keynote address at a Semta-led event during National Apprenticeship Week in February 2012


TM conversation with Gerry Dunne, MD of Westley Engineering, who trained via the EITB apprenticeship, is a user of the Semta Apprenticeship Scheme and advocate of modern apprenticeships:

Gerry Dunne, managing director of Westley Engineering

TM: “How effective do you feel the National Apprenticeship Service is as a centralised point of reference for apprenticeship information?”

Dunne: “I’d never heard about them before I read the Holt Review.”

The National Apprenticeship Service was set up in 2008 to support significant growth in apprenticeship numbers


Stephen Lilley, head of apprenticeships at Semta, the sector skills council for engineering and manufacturing, August 29 following the Holt Review:

TM: “Following Holt, is it fair to say that Semta and the other sector skills councils have focused disproportionately on delivering apprenticeships to large employers, because meeting the individual needs of small companies is more difficult and expensive, and therefore harder to reach government-set targets?”:

Lilley: “It would be reasonable for someone to make that conclusion. It is certainly easier to engage with large companies, but that has not necessarily been our strategy. This has been driven more by a focus on certain subsectors which reflect our expertise and the roots of the Semta Apprenticeship Service which came out of the metals industry.”

Richard Bridgman, chairman of Warren Services and chair of Semta for East of England. Richard has campaigned for SME apprentice needs for 15-years and speaks to many of the stakeholders at NAS, BIS and Semta regularly.

Richard Bridgman, Warren Services
Richard Bridgman, Warren Services and Semta chair for East of England

“Do we need two reviews so close together? I am not against either one, but we have many of the answers already.

“Surely it would be more effective to get the right people together in a room to discuss the problems – which we all know – and derive some clear solutions. I know a great deal about this agenda and offered my services to the Richard review, but I was told I would not be needed. OK, but we need action now because a new apprenticeship year is about to start and it will be a year before any change can be effected.”