Déjà vu in Richard Review, but give credit where it is due

Posted on 28 Nov 2012

The Richard Review of Apprenticeships, published Tuesday, makes about 10 key recommendations to redefine apprenticeships, lift their brand value and reform their funding to be more employer-led.

Trade groups and stakeholders queued up to praise the sentiment and action points of ex-Dragon Doug Richard. Manufacturers’ group EEF, the CBI, PwC and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development have all complimented the Review’s conclusions that any apprenticeship should be credible, of a minimum standard and duration (one year) and confer transferable skills.

Many individuals have commented on this important subject, as the economy seeks to plug a ‘technician class’ skills gap.

But for many manufacturing companies who recruit apprentices, who deal with the  funding process required, and train and groom these people for skilled careers as a daily part of their business, some of these ideas give a sense of déjà vu.

The Review recommends that:

  • Apprenticeships should be a minimum of a year = Yes, especially in engineering. In fact the National Apprenticeship Service mandated that in February all apprenticeships for 16 – 18 year olds must last at least 12-months. For those apprentices aged 19 or over the apprenticeship should also last at least 12-months unless relevant prior learning is recorded.
  • Standards need to be defined, raised and maintained = Yes, we know that.
  • Funding and deployment should be employer-led = Yes, got that; manufacturers have pushed for employer-led skills and funding empowerment for years.
  • a minimum standard for English and maths = again, there is no revelation here. Many apprentices in this sector command minimum English and maths grades a GCSE, and even at A Level.

Some organisations acknowledged that the Review should not treat all apprenticeships the same. Sarah Sillars, CEO of manufacturing sector skills council Semta, said “Lets not throw the baby out with the bathwater,” in reference to the strengths that already characterise apprenticeships in this sector, which a wholesale reform would perhaps dilute.

And the Richard Review was widely anticipated, but with such a huge existing  body of evidence to tap, not to mention the expert views of SME owner/managers, large companies and trade bodies – was it really necessary?

“I’m confused, and a bit non-plussed. First the Holt Review, and now the Richard Review. How many reviews do we need!” says Andrew Esson, managing director of Quick Hydraulics and a skills champion in the North East.

In 2012, the UK has had the Holt Review on apprenticeships, a BIS Select Committee report on apprenticeships, EEF and CBI skills surveys (where their survey pools are often >500 companies), and the Richard Review. Then there are the skills needs surveys conducted by the individual sector skills councils like Semta, Cogent (nuclear, gas and process industries), Improve (food) etc.

Apprenticeships are not just for manufacturers, of course. Richard’s work was cross-sector and industry-wide.

Tim Thomas, head of employment and skills of EEF, admits that there will be little to overwhelm manufacturers in the Review, but acknowledges that Mr Richard provides some value-add. “Instead of concluding that Apprenticeships should be employer-led without more, he goes further – offering real solutions, where employers and employer organisations are invited to design and develop standards and qualifications.

Nevertheless, some will wonder whether we really needed another expensive review on matters that many informed people in this arena already know, which could have been more quickly communicated in a couple of meetings at BIS?


Click here to read more comments from industry on the Richard Review