As the school year ends and final-year students consider what to do next, a group of local authorities are calling for comprehensive reforms to the apprenticeship system.

The Industrial Communities Alliance – the all-party association of local authorities in the industrial areas of England, Scotland and Wales – has unveiled a new report arguing that apprenticeships should be put on an equal footing with academic qualifications.

Echoing Tony Blair’s famous call ‘education, education, education’, the new report, Vocation, Vocation, Vocation, makes six recommendations:

  • Apprenticeships and vocational training should be placed on an equal footing with academic qualifications.
  • A national partnership should be established bringing together employers, unions and government to provide oversight on skills policy.
  • The Apprenticeship Levy paid by larger employers should be remodelled as a skills levy to give them flexibility on how funds are spent.
  • The ‘apprenticeship’ label should be reserved for higher-level training, to restore the mark of quality it used to provide.
  • FE and skills funding in England should be devolved, initially to combined authorities.
  • An expert body should be established to advise on investment in skills.

Cllr Keith Cunliffe, National Chair of the Industrial Communities Alliance, said: “A robust apprenticeship system is vital to economic growth.  This is especially true in our older industrial areas, which remain the heartland of British manufacturing, where the need for apprentice-level skills is greatest and where there are shortages in industry, construction and public services. The present system, including the levy on employers, is flawed.  It inhibits smaller businesses, limits opportunities for younger apprentices, and provides qualifications that are not always understood by employers. Ministers need to signal that the era of more and more graduates is over, and that a wider range of high-quality skills and training is now the priority.”