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Tougher standards introduced for apprenticeships

New standards will come into force from August 2012, meaning that apprenticeships for all age groups will last for a minimum of 12 months.

It had been announced in December that all apprenticeships for 16-18 year olds will last a minimum of a year, but this has now been extended to all age groups. Subject to consultation, apprenticeships for those aged 19 and over will last between one to four years unless prior learning or attainment has been recorded.

A series of publicity scandals have damaged the reputation of the Government’s National Apprentice Scheme.

In 2011, the Government in England spent £1.4bn to create more than 450,000 apprenticeships, a 63% rise on the previous year, but a BBC Panorama programme screened on 2 April 2012 claimed that nearly £250m worth of contracts went to large subcontractors, working on behalf of further education colleges, which have not been inspected by Ofsted.

The programme also claimed that one in 10 apprenticeships created in England last year were at Morrisons supermarkets – but that most of the 52,000 apprentices at the company were existing employees who were over 25.

The new move to enforce a minimum period is part of a range of measures intended to improve the quality of apprenticeships. New safeguards to strengthen monitoring, reporting and subcontracting arrangements have been introduced, including requiring subcontractors to be regulated through the Register of Training Organisations in the same way as prime contractors.

New contracts have been drawn up “to ensure that training providers not only act according to regulations, but also within the spirit of the apprenticeship programme” and an enquiry panel will investigate reports of poor quality providers.

Skills Minister John Hayes said: “The momentum we have created by building the apprenticeship brand has brought about unprecedented success for the apprenticeship programme. The majority of apprenticeships are the gold standard in vocational training. They boost individuals’ life chances and build the skills that drive growth.

"They also provide a great return on public money. This has been independently recognised with the National Audit Office finding that apprenticeships generating £18 for the economy for every £1 spent.

“But we must be relentless in our drive to ensure all apprenticeships are as good as the best, to identify and root out any instances of poor quality provision, and to raise the bar on standards.”

Also announced is a new initiative offering up to 40,000 Apprenticeship Grants to the value of £1,500 to SMEs (employing less than 250 employees) that recruit their first apprentice aged 16 to 24 years old.