Report Overview

Better Apprenticeships draws on research by teams from the UCL Institute of Education and the Centre for Vocational Education Research at LSE to analyse the current state of play for apprenticeships in England.

‘Apprenticeship quality and social mobility’, authored by Alison Fuller & Lorna Unwin from the UCL Institute of Education, analyses whether sufficient quality indicators are in place to facilitate social mobility for young people (aged 16-24) through apprenticeships. It also provides an analytical framework to support quality improvement through a more ‘expansive’ approach.

This is followed by ‘Apprenticeships for young people in England: Is there a payoff?’, from the LSE Centre for Vocational Education Research, which draws on a new analysis that tracks 565,000 young people age 16 to 28, examining inequities in access and labour market outcomes. Authored by Chiara Cavaglia, Sandra McNally and Guglielmo Ventura, the report asks whether there is an earnings differential from starting an apprenticeship for young people, whilst looking closely at the stark gender difference in earnings payoffs.

Executive Summary

Apprenticeship quality and social mobility

  • Good quality apprenticeships lead to improved employment and pay prospects, and enable apprentices to progress further in their careers and education. Their quality arises from a shared understanding about and sustained commitment to ensuring the needs of both the employer and the apprentice are met. However, as this report shows, the current apprenticeship model and system of quality assurance are not fit for purpose. Although England has some very good quality apprenticeships, too many are failing to provide sufficient training and access to skilled work to enable participants to progress. Instead, the focus is still on boosting numbers rather than on the hard and sustained work required to improve quality.
  • The segmentation of apprenticeship by level puts an artificial break on progression. There is no expectation that apprenticeship will enable progression to the next occupational or educational level. As the majority of apprenticeships are at level 2 and as the majority of apprentices under the age of 25 start their training below their existing level of educational attainment, many apprentices are treading water. This problem has been further entrenched by the IfA’s decision to remove qualifications from the new intermediate and advanced apprenticeship standards except in ‘special circumstances’.
  • Existing employees are frequently ‘converted’ into apprentices. They comprise two thirds of apprentices, making apprenticeship a largely ‘adult’ programme. The apprenticeship levy may encourage more ‘conversions’ as a way for large employers to reclaim their money. As it is based on pay-roll, it will also raise more money in London and the South East of England and so may contribute to further regional inequality.

Apprenticeships for young people in England: Is there a payoff?

  • About 17% of 16-year-olds in 2003 started an apprenticeship by the age of 28. About 60% of these are classified as an ‘intermediate’ apprenticeship (or level 2) with the remainder mainly ‘advanced’ apprenticeships (or level 3). Most people starting an apprenticeship achieve a highest level of qualification at either level 2 (equivalent to GCSE) or level 3 (equivalent to A-level). However, just 17% of this cohort who started an intermediate apprenticeship progressed to an advanced apprenticeship, though this has risen to approximately 25% more recently.
  • There is strong concentration of men and women within different apprenticeship sectors. For intermediate apprenticeships, most men are classified within Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies (21%), Construction Planning and the Built Environment (29%), Retail and Commercial Enterprise (17%) or Business, Administration and Law (13%). For advanced apprenticeships, there is even more concentration, as 53% of men are classified as within Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies and 26% are within Construction, Planning and the Built Environment. For women doing intermediate apprenticeships, the biggest sectors are Health, Public Services and Care (22%), Retail and Commercial Enterprise (37%) and Business, Administration and Law (32%).
  • Those starting an apprenticeship are more likely than average to be white and to speak English as a first language. Although the number of apprenticeships has increased over time, this has not changed. Furthermore, those from disadvantaged backgrounds – especially men – are less likely to start an apprenticeship. The percentage of disadvantaged men who start advanced apprenticeships is the same as those with university degrees. For this cohort, the percentage of men and women with an advanced apprenticeship who were eligible to receive free school meals when at school is 7% and 11% respectively. This compares to 12% and 14% – for men and women respectively – who start an intermediate apprenticeship. The average person in the cohort eligible to receive free school meals when at school is 14%.
  • After controlling for factors including prior attainment, secondary school attended, demographics and experience, results show a positive earnings differential from starting an apprenticeship in many contexts. After taking account of factors we can observe – at the age of 28, men who start an apprenticeship earn 23% more than those who left school with only GCSEs and roughly 16% more than those who left education with a level 2 vocational qualification. For women, those who start an apprenticeship earn 15% more than those who left school with only GCSEs and about 4% more than those who left education with a level 2 qualification. For those educated up to level 3, men who start an apprenticeship earn about 37% more than those who left education with A-levels (and did not progress any further) and women about 9% more. This is mainly driven by the sector of apprenticeship – men are more prominent in higher paying sectors. It is disturbing that women enter sectors with much poorer prospects and that the situation hasn’t changed over the last ten years.
  1. There should be more advanced and higher apprenticeships, targeted at younger age groups, to give young people a platform for progression to higher level learning and careers including through university.
  2. Progression for those beginning on lower level apprenticeships should be seamless and automatic. Level 2 and 3 apprentices should not hit arbitrary glass ceilings and have similar chances as their A-level or graduate peers to access the next level, including higher and degree apprenticeships.
  3. Apprenticeships should all be of good quality and give apprentices the expertise and capability to adapt to change in the labour market, rather than merely the accreditation of current skills.
  4. The Institute for Apprenticeships and the levy should have a widening access function to ensure access to advanced and higher apprenticeships for those from less advantaged backgrounds.
  5. There should be a stronger drive from the government to support and encourage employers to improve the quality and availability of apprenticeships for young people, and to young people to take them up. Careers advice should more strongly take into account the benefits of apprenticeships as a route to labour market recognition and educational progression.
  6. Gender segregation should be tackled through better careers advice and not reinforcing gender stereotypes. Advice should be clearer about the potential careers, salaries and progression prospects that are likely to arise from undertaking an apprenticeship in different sectors. Employers should be aware of the need to diversify the employment pool in the interests of using all available talent and advancing social mobility for all groups.
  7. Government should ensure adequate funding for apprenticeships in non-levy paying employers. Adequate funding, across sectors, is essential for safeguarding quality and ensuring a valuable experience for apprentices.