Sutton Trust research was quoted frequently in a long debate in the Lords on apprenticeships this week. Labour Peer Baroness Prosser introduced the debate with the key message was that the government’s pledge to support 3 million apprenticeships by 2020 “must not be a ‘never mind the quality feel the width’ proposal”. This opened an opportunity for Peers to quote the Sutton Trust report Levels of Success: The Potential of UK Apprenticeships published last week, including Labour Peer Lord Haskell who said that the report indicated “many lower end apprenticeships have become little more than cheap labour schemes”. Later in the debate, directly quoting the report, Labour Peer Lord Snape said:
“Reference has been made to the Sutton Trust report recently published, Levels of Success: The Potential of UK Apprenticeships. In the foreword to that report, the chairman of the Sutton Trust, Sir Peter Lampl, had this to say about apprentices and apprenticeships: ‘For apprenticeships to be genuine paths to success for young people they will need to be more widely available and better understood. We need to increase the proportion of apprenticeships at level 4 and 5 (higher)—the best apprenticeships—in addition to ensuring that level 3 (advanced) rather than level 2 (intermediate) is the minimum standard for most apprenticeships targeted at young people. If the Government’s promise of three million apprenticeships is to lead to a genuine skills revolution, progression to level 3 must be inbuilt within most level 2 apprenticeships’.”
Following this, Labour Peer Lord Watson said:
“We know that good training leading to proper, meaningful work can play an important role not just, as I said, in promoting social mobility but also in reducing inequality in the country. This issue was highlighted in the recent report by the Sutton Trust which several noble Lords, including my noble friends Lord Haskel and Lord Snape, referred to. Perhaps unfortunately, that report attracted most attention because of the headline that it had found that the top-achieving apprentices—the relatively few with a level 5 qualification—will earn more in their lifetime than someone with an undergraduate degree from a university out with the Russell Group. This underscores the logic of the provision in the Enterprise Bill for apprenticeships to be given equal standing to degrees because it will protect the term “apprenticeship” in law and begin to tackle existing misuse, often by unauthorised training providers… More importantly, the Sutton Trust report carried a warning that, although the best apprenticeships offer similar financial security as an undergraduate degree, the sector needs to bring about serious change if apprenticeships are to fulfil their potential as a vehicle for social mobility.”
Responding for the government, Conservative Peer the Earl of Courtown gave an overview of all the work the government are doing related to apprenticeship policy and insisted that it is working to improve the quality as well as the quantity of apprenticeships.