Attack on apprenticeship standards

Posted on 24 Jan 2011 by The Manufacturer

Managing Director of awarding body, EAL, blasts new government specifications for apprenticeship provision in England.

On January 20 government released a new set of specification for apprenticeship provision in England’s. The Specification of Apprenticeship Standards for England (SASE) is designed to bring consistency and boost employer confidence in the quality of apprenticeship qualifications.

Last week the Skills Minister John Hayes said SASE would “enshrine” the value of apprenticeships in England and inferred that the new standards proved Government’s commitment to the apprenticeship education format and to increasing the profile of this important route into employment.

The legitimacy of SASE and of Government’s claim to understand employer needs with regards to apprenticeship has been undermined however by statements from the managing director of key awarding organisation EAL, Ann Watson. EAL is the leading awarding body for vocational qualifications to the UK engineering sector and the primary qualifications provider for Sector Skills Council for science engineering and manufacturing, Semta. EAL is an influential voice in the UK skills landscape and is closely engaged with numerous employers across the manufacturing and engineering sector.

Responding to the publication of SASE Watson stated it: “failed to recognise the needs of the advanced skills sectors which most need support when it comes to apprenticeships”. Watson’s scepticism as to the value of SAE is based on the revelation that guidelines describing the fundamental skills to be included in apprenticeship schemes do not include the critical Level 2 NVQ in Performing Engineering Operations (PEO) in the Advanced Apprenticeship in Engineering. The NVQ will still be required of apprentices qualifying in Scotland and Wales however and Watson fears the creation of tiered standards in the UK.

Explaining her stance further Watson said: “Although on the surface SASE seems a really positive move, the engineering and manufacturing industries will suffer due to a lack of understanding of the fundamental skills needed to operate safely and effectively in industry. In particular, the loss of PEO means that for many young people they will lose the chance to gain fundamental engineering skills in a safe, off-the-job environment. This could have serious health and safety consequences, which may put people off a career in the sector.”

Watson continued: “The employers and colleges we work with are up in arms about this. Contrary to what the Government says, the frameworks going forward do not actually reflect what engineering employers want and force every sector to have an apprenticeship framework based on the same qualification mix. It destroys the ability of Sector Skills Councils and awarding organisations to be able to cater for the specific requirements of an industry. A one size fits all mentality is not appropriate for sectors which require bespoke, tailored training. In asking us to provide this, the Government is undoing what has made the engineering and manufacturing industries flagship examples of how apprenticeships should be designed and delivered.”

In conclusion Watson affirmed: “It is disappointing that, despite the high billing apprenticeships have had with the Coalition Government since it came into power, it has failed to listen to sector needs. It is very concerning, given their high commitment to the delivery and quality of apprenticeships that they should be so prescriptive and devalue the apprenticeship in the engineering and manufacturing sector in one piece of legislation.”