Lantra sounds apprentice alarm

Industry must respond to Government call for information to safeguard formal apprenticeships.

Apprenticeships: employers to be given responsibility for training
Apprenticeships: employers to be given responsibility for training

English horticulture could be left without formal apprenticeships if the industry fails to respond to a Government call for information, skills council Lantra has warned.

The Department for Business, Innovation & Skills and the Department for Education are changing apprenticeships and asking business sectors to help produce concise information documents.

Under the plans, developed from recommendations made by entrepreneur Doug Richard in 2012 following a Government-commissioned review in England, apprenticeships will have to be at least a year long, graded rather than pass or fail and judged through "rigorous, independent assessment".

The Government will also give employers responsibility for apprentices' training and assessment funding, currently paid directly from Government to colleges.

But Lantra horticulture manager David Winn said that if industries do not respond they will be left without access to apprenticeships from 2017. "Most people don't have a clue that if there isn't any proactive action they will lose their apprenticeships. The existing frameworks will not exist for new learners starting from September 2017," he added.

"I'm not sure that the Government has actually thought this through. I think they are looking for a business group to say 'we want this' or 'we want that' and then they'll sort it out. But of course what will happen is there won't be enough impetus. If too few companies are involved it will just collapse."

So far eight "apprenticeships trailblazer" sectors have designed their own standards, which were published in March, with 29 going through the process.

But Winn said the process benefits big business over an industry such as horticulture. "It's easy for companies with thousands of employees to do their own thing but the biggest horticulture company probably only has 2,000 employees. Our challenge is trying to get all the dynamics of this very diverse sector to come together."

The Government's implementation document specifically mentions small businesses, which employ the majority of apprentices: "We want to encourage even more to take on apprentices. Small businesses need to be involved - even where they don't lead - in the development of every standard so that, once in place, each meets the skills needs of such businesses in a system that is administratively simple for them to operate."

Apprenticeships Series of recommendations set out after review

- Redefine apprenticeships to be targeted only at those who are new to a role requiring sustained and substantial training.

- Focus on the outcome of an apprenticeship - what the apprentice can do when they complete their training - and free up the process by which they get there.

- Trusted, independent assessment

- Have recognised industry standards as the basis of every apprenticeship and link to professional registration.

- Require all apprentices to have reached level 2 in English and maths before they can complete their apprenticeship.

- Ensure Government funding creates the right incentives for apprenticeship training, with the purchasing power for investing in apprenticeship training lying with the employer.

- Greater diversity and innovation in training, with employers and the Government safeguarding quality.

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