By Claire West
Stronger regulation and enforcement is needed to weed out sub-standard apprenticeship schemes and raise quality standards, the TUC says today in its submission to the Richard Review into the future of apprenticeships.
The TUC is a long-term supporter of apprenticeships and has welcomed the efforts of both the previous and current governments to boost the quality and popularity of apprenticeships.
However, the TUC is concerned that a minority of employers are providing poor quality schemes which risk tarnishing the much-improved reputation of apprenticeships. Worse still, some companies are able to do this while still claiming government subsidies, says the TUC.
The TUC submission cites statistics from the latest apprenticeship pay survey by the Department for Business, which shows that one in five apprentices were paid less than the minimum wage and one in five did not receive any recognisable training.
Poor quality schemes are bad for apprentices if they are not paid enough, aren't given adequate training and don't get a job at the end of the course, says the TUC. But they are also bad for the job sectors that rely on apprenticeships if trainees are not prepared or able to move into work, says the submission.
The TUC wants the government to focus on increasing the number of apprenticeships and supporting 'gold-standard' schemes that lead to good quality jobs.
To do this ministers must use stronger regulation and enforcement, such as prosecuting employers who flout minimum pay rates and giving apprentices a right to progress into employment or higher education. This would ensure that rogue employers cannot get away with using taxpayers' money to provide sub-standard courses.
The TUC submission highlights five key areas where minimum standards for apprenticeships must be enforced:
minimum pay rates for apprentices
minimum duration of apprenticeships (one year for intermediate courses, two years for advance courses)
time off for training (at least one day a week)
progression into employment as the key measure of success (as opposed to the current measure of course completion rates)
monitoring of employer funding contributions so that pay and training standards are met.
TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: 'It's great to see unions, employers and all the political parties fully behind the growth of apprenticeships.
'As long term supporters of apprenticeships, we believe they offer a valuable route into skilled employment. And with one in five young people out of work, apprenticeships should provide part of the answer for dealing with our youth jobs crisis - as long as they lead to jobs.
'Unfortunately the reputation of apprenticeships is being tarnished by a minority of dodgy employers offering half-baked schemes with low pay, poor quality training and little chance of a job at the end. Worse still, many of these companies are getting taxpayers' money for shoddy apprenticeships.
'Ministers must use stricter enforcement and regulation to clamp down on rogue schemes. This is the best way to bolster the popularity of apprenticeships amongst potential trainees and industry leaders.
'The Richard Review provides the perfect opportunity to raise the quality of apprenticeships, a move that will benefit millions of apprentices and the employers who will use them in future.'