Union says employers should be barred from public sector contracts if they do not train apprentices

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Unions say proposals by MPs on the future of apprenticeships are ‘a mixed bag’.

The Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee has called on Coalition ministers to define an ‘overarching strategy and clear purpose for the apprenticeship programme’, which would include a formal definition of what constitutes an apprenticeship.

UCATT says it warmly welcomes a recommendation that public sector procurement rules should be used to ensure that one apprentice is trained for every £1m spent.

Giving evidence to the committee, the TUC said the ‘£1m approach’ which has operated in the construction industry should be embedded and extended to other sectors.

In one of its strongest recommendations, the MPs concluded that “the current recruitment practices of prospective contractors (in terms of apprentices) is a factor which is taken in to positive consideration when the Government is considering bids for any public contract.’

Steve Murphy, general secretary of UCATT, said: “The link between public sector procurement rules and apprenticeship training is essential in industries such as construction where employers have continually failed to train apprentices.

“If employers won’t train apprentices they should be barred from public contracts.”

UCATT also welcomed the committee’s call for a clear definition of an apprenticeship, especially the demand that apprenticeships must include full-time employment and that both work-based learning and off the job training is independently accredited.

However, unions say ministers now have an opportunity to end policies which created classroom-based apprenticeships and self-employed apprentices.

Critics say apprentices leave such schemes disillusioned when they find the training is ‘virtually worthless.’

Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT, said: “The MPs’ report into apprenticeships is right when they say that high quality vocational training should be seen on a par with academic achievement and should be promoted within schools as such.

“The direction that [Education Secretary] Michael Gove is taking with school examination reform will not make this message easy to get across.

“The proposed E-Bacc will measure success based on five academic subjects with no recognition given to the arts, IT or vocational subjects. This has the potential to de-motivate many students, creating a two-tier system with vocational qualifications being perceived as second best.

“It is essential that apprenticeships are of a high standard, all of them paying at least the Living Wage and leading to meaningful work.

“Our young people are our society’s future. They have a right to jobs with proper contracts and which pay the Living Wage.

“We need to develop the skills of young people for the sake of our economic future and theirs”.

Other education unions agree that the creation of a new generation of skilled workers should be at the centre of any plan to raise the status of the apprenticeship programme.

Jill Stokoe, education policy adviser at the ATL, said:“Tthere should be a clear distinction between real apprenticeship programmes and ‘cheap labour’ that may lead to an apprenticeship.

“In order to establish both the credibility and quality of apprenticeship programmes, more places should be made available to the 16-24 age group and apprenticeships must lead to sustainable jobs.

“ATL agrees with the report’s concerns about the perception of academic and vocational routes for young people.

“Apprenticeships are not the totality of vocational education and more must be done for the half-a-million young people who are not in education, employment or training (NEET).”

However, unions are also disappointed that MPs have endorsed the widely-criticised Group Training Associations and Apprenticeship Training Agencies.

GTAs allow a number of small or medium-sized firms to train apprentices, rather than a single employer.

An ATA is a private company which recruits apprentices and then acts as an employment agency to find them placements.

UCATT says both models break the link between employer and apprentice and reduce the quality and level of training.

Says Steve Murphy: “The Select Committee has been hoodwinked.

“ATAs and GTAs have been created so that employers can meet apprentice training requirements without taking on the responsibility of employing an apprentice. They dilute and distort the apprenticeship model.”


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