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EEF chief executive Terry Scuoler recognises the rise in higher apprenticeship starts but says quality of provision and candidates needs work.

Terry Scuoler, CEO of EEF was largely supportive of Dr Cable's employment law intentions

Recent data shows the Government has hit the half-a-million mark for apprenticeship starts in a year – up from 457,200 in the academic year 2010/11. Such growth will be welcomed by manufacturers, a sector with a proven track record in offering apprenticeships and our latest survey with JAM Recruitment reveals that 74% of manufacturers that offer apprenticeship programmes took on a trainee in the last 12 months.

What is also important to highlight is the growth in higher-level apprenticeships. Whilst intermediate apprenticeships have their place in our economy, especially in terms of laying the foundation for developing further skills, EEF has been calling for a rise in the number of advanced and higher apprenticeships, which will deliver the skills at NVQ level 3 and above that the UK needs in order to remain globally competitive.

EEF’s The Route to Growth report sets out a clear benchmark for an increase in STEM apprenticeships at level 3 and above to be achieved by 2015.

But apprenticeships are more than just a numbers game. Whilst it’s easy to get excited about reaching a half-a-million milestone, we must also focus on raising standards.

Redirecting funding would help here. Manufacturing apprenticeships are costly and lengthy and require considerable amounts of investment. Employers of all sizes need to be able to easily draw down funding directly. By combining this funding with their own money they will gain enhanced skills purchasing power and create a competitive training market where the customer is king.

We also need to increase employer involvement in developing frameworks and qualifications around apprenticeships to meet industry needs.

A demand-led system must include a revision of current frameworks by the employers who should own them. Sector skills councils need to increase their engagement with employers, specifically SMEs.

Finally, there is work to do in improving the quality of apprenticeship candidates. When recruiting apprentices manufacturers prioritise not only enthusiasm for the sector but also attainment in english, maths and the sciences. We must then drive up teaching standards in our schools to ensure that 65% of school leavers achieve five GCSEs at A* to C grade (or the equivalent in any new system) including English and maths.

These are just a few steps that we can take not only to boost quantity but also quality.