Increasing the quantity and quality of apprenticeships is high on the policy agenda in England. Research on this issue is a central focus of the Centre for Vocational Education Research (CVER). Sandra McNally summarises some of the most significant findings to date.
An apprenticeship is usually thought of as a programme of work and study for young people as they make the transition from full-time education into the labour market. But this is not true for about half of those starting an apprenticeship in England: they are over 25 years old. Most of these people are already working for their employer before they start an apprenticeship.
Since 2008 (and more especially from 2010), there has been a huge rate of growth in apprenticeship starts. But this has been driven by starts among those aged 25 and older (from zero in 2007), and to a lesser extent among those aged between 19 and 24. The number of apprenticeship starts for young people aged between 16 and 18 has been fairly stable since 2003.
England’s apprenticeship system differs from that in other European countries
and not only because of the different age profile of apprenticeships. Steedman et al (2011) show that compared with Austria, Germany and Switzerland, apprentices in England are more likely to be trained at a lower skill level, for a shorter time period and receive only one third of the hours of ‘off-the-firm’ training compared with the ‘apprenticeship countries’.
Most apprentices in England are either classified as Intermediate (‘level 2’ – equivalent to GCSEs in the qualifications framework) or Advanced (‘level 3’ – equivalent to A-levels). But the apprenticeship system in England is slowly changing as new standards come into force, with a lower share of Intermediate Apprenticeships and a higher share of Advanced and Higher Apprenticeships.