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Written Statement - Consultation on aligning the apprenticeship model with the needs of the Welsh economy

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We are seeking views on the development of the apprenticeship model for Wales.
Julie James, Deputy Minister for Skills and Technology

In June 2014 the Welsh Government’s Skills Implementation Plan was published.  The Plan included a commitment to consult on developing our apprenticeship programme in Wales.

Today I am launching a consultation on aligning the apprenticeship model with the needs of the Welsh economy.  This consultation seeks the views of employers, apprentices, training providers and other stakeholders who are involved in the design and delivery of apprenticeships to help shape and inform the future of the apprenticeship programme in Wales.

The Welsh apprenticeship system has many strengths.  It is a system that we can be proud of, as the quality of work-based learning in Wales is amongst the best in the United Kingdom.  Training providers across the country are achieving the highest standards for learners and there are clear signs that these efforts and ongoing improvements are highly valued by the people enrolled on these programmes.  In 2012/13, the last year for which official figures are available, the work-based learning framework success rate in Wales was 87% for apprenticeships and 85% for foundation apprenticeship programmes.

Nonetheless, we need to ensure that our investment provides us with the best possible value in terms of skills acquisition and that the programme has ongoing relevance for a new generation of young people growing up in a technological age.  This needs to be balanced with the demands from employers to provide skills that help them build their businesses, whilst also acknowledging the ongoing financial constraints facing government.

The Welsh economy is going through a considerable transformation both in terms of the types of goods and services that are produced or provided by business, and the nature of employment and job opportunities.  Our Policy statement on skills, published earlier this year, sets out how we need to re–balance the economy and better meet the specific needs of business for a highly skilled workforce in order to be internationally competitive.  We need to build a stronger STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) offer and ensure that apprenticeships have market relevance.  The jobs of tomorrow will require higher levels of competence than in the past and our apprenticeships programme needs to meet that challenge and support growth.

The current focus of apprenticeships is at level 2 and much of the delivery is for people aged 25 and over.  Relatively few young people aged 16-19 are enrolled on an apprenticeship and compared to other European economies fewer employers employ apprentices and those that do appear to be less involved in their design.  Options for young people to start a level 3 apprenticeship in STEM areas are likewise limited in comparison to the more successful European countries.  We want apprenticeships to become a route to high value jobs and professions that are valued as an alternative to university for young people.  Our apprenticeship programme needs to be held in high esteem, as must our university system.

The apprenticeship landscape across the UK is also changing.  The apprenticeship reform programme in England presents its own set of challenges, leading to uncertainties about apprenticeship framework development in the devolved nations under a model that has, up to now, relied on the strength of shared UK wide systems.  We are keen to ensure that our apprenticeship system is compatible with other UK systems, so that apprenticeships are portable across the UK.  Against this backdrop, we have opportunities to develop our model so that the content of apprenticeships strongly aligns with employer needs.  Furthermore, subject to its establishment through the Qualifications Wales Bill, there could be potential for Qualifications Wales to have both a strategic and an operational role on apprenticeship design and development.

We are consulting with stakeholders to develop a stronger apprenticeship model for the future.  This is an opportunity to shape the future of our apprenticeship programme to create a more effective model that reflects employer needs and provides a skilled workforce for the future.

Responses to this consultation will inform the development of an implementation plan for apprenticeship development in Wales which will be published in the summer of 2015.

The consultation document can be viewed online.