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Public Policy|Southampton

On and Off the job Training in Apprenticeships in England

By Michaela Brockman

One of the recent drivers in the continuous string of reforms of apprenticeships has been the notion of ‘putting employers in the driving seat’. This is based on the assumption that employers know best when it comes to developing programmes that produce apprentices capable of fulfilling their organisations’ workforce requirements.  However, current regulation leaves considerable flexibility in the way apprenticeships are delivered. While a minimum of 20% of an apprentice’s contracted working hours must now be spent on off-the-job training, there has been little in terms of regulating employers and the provision of on-the-job training.

A new report by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation brings together research by Dr Michaela Brockmann and Dr Ian Laurie, Southampton Education School, and Prof Rob Smith and Dr Vanessa Cui of Birmingham City University, who investigated the quality of on- and off-the-job training respectively. The projects were based on a series of case studies that included employers in a range of sectors, including engineering, construction, retail and social care. Interviews were conducted with national and sector stakeholders, employers, and apprentices.

The research shows that understanding and awareness of apprenticeship differed hugely between employers. Apprenticeships in the traditional sectors, such as construction and engineering, built on high-quality provision and the close integration of on- and off-the-job training. Underpinning these programmes was a close collaboration of employers and providers who shared a common belief that quality apprenticeships should benefit the apprentice, the employer, and the wider community. Whilst employers ensured that the apprenticeship criteria were met, for them the apprenticeship was about developing occupational competence and the apprentice becoming a member of the team, thus securing their future workforce.   

At the other end of the spectrum were employer organisations, mainly in the service sector, where apprenticeships were deemed separate from the job and more akin to staff development. Apprentices completed their apprenticeships during the 20% off-the-job element and were deemed fully productive workers during the rest of the time. There was little structured support in the workplace. Apprenticeships were the sole responsibility of training providers with little employer involvement. 

The report lists a number of recommendations, including a quality assurance mechanism that enhances understanding of quality apprenticeships and encourages employers to provide comprehensive training; a clear distinction in policy and funding between apprenticeship and alternative schemes, such as staff development; and regional stakeholder support and brokerage. It is crucial that apprenticeships do not become a catch-all funding stream, thus tarnishing the brand of apprenticeship.

The DfE and other stakeholders have expressed strong interest in the findings of the research and there has been a series of meetings to input into policy reform. The full report can be downloaded here: Employers' attitudes to training - critical to delivering a world-class apprenticeship system | Education | Gatsby

The research was published as a main feature in FE News on 8th April Employers in the driving seat: Wrong turn for Apprenticeships? (

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