Our education specialist, Joe Atkinson, looks at the latest policy developments in Wales, as the Welsh Government looks to create 100,000 apprenticeships by 2021.
Ahead of the 2016 Assembly election, Welsh Labour’s manifesto included a pledge to deliver 100,000 apprenticeships by the end of the current term of government in 2021. In December, the government announced an extra £6.8 million for apprenticeships in its budget for the 2019-20 financial year, designed to support the 100,000 commitment.
This week, the Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport, Lee Waters, delivered a statement to AMs on the Welsh Government’s support for apprenticeships. Mr Waters told the Siambr that between May 2016 and July 2018, there were over 55,000 apprenticeship starts in Wales, meaning the government is ahead of schedule. He discussed a range of actions his government is taking to improve uptake and quality of apprenticeships, and fielded questions from several Assembly Members.
Parity of Esteem
A common argument on apprenticeships is that they are not given parity of esteem with academic qualifications and therefore do not receive the same funding. AMs have argued that too many people more suited to technical education are being directed towards academic institutions. The government says its 100,000 target is designed to remedy this issue but UKIP’s David Rowlands suggested it could go further by funding apprenticeships in the same ways as universities and colleges.
Higher and Degree Apprenticeships
AMs questioned the government on higher apprenticeships, with Welsh Conservative skills spokesperson Mohammad Asghar noting that Estyn found that most providers do not manage courses well, and that many are out of date. Lee Waters said that in response to the report, the government is reviewing quality of standards and the role of regional skills partnerships, bodies that were set up to identify and plan skills provision.
Plaid Cymru’s Bethan Sayed raised Universities Wales’ concerns about the Welsh Government’s narrow approach to degree apprenticeships, suggesting its focus on digital degree apprenticeships so far has seen Welsh students go to England where a wider range of subjects are available. Lee Waters was critical of the UK Government’s approach, saying money has been “wildly overspent”. He said his government is taking an evidence-based approach to get the most from its investment and is about to launch engineering degree apprenticeships.
AMs from all political parties outlined their concerns about underrepresentation of women, disabled people and ethnic minorities in apprenticeship numbers. Labour’s Jenny Rathbone pointed out that for every woman undertaking construction and engineering apprenticeships, there are 23 men. It was also noted that women tend to undertake apprenticeships in less well-paid sectors.
Mohammad Asghar pointed out that less than 2% of those on apprenticeship programmes are disabled people. Lee Waters pointed to the Welsh Government’s equality toolkit published last year. He also discussed the disability action plan, launched recently, that has been designed with disability organisations and sets out how training can deliver more opportunities for disabled people.
Concerns were also raised about a lack of people from ethnic minorities on apprenticeship courses. The Deputy Minister recognised that the Welsh Government has a lot to do to ensure fairer representation in apprenticeships but insisted it is working towards that aim.
On Wednesday afternoon, backbench Labour AM Mike Hedges led a short debate on apprenticeships with a focus on qualifications. He pointed out that while there are legal protections against an unqualified person seeking work as a lawyer, many other professions, such as hairdressers, beauticians and builders, are unregulated. Responding to Mr Hedges, Ken Skates said “the threat of Mike Hedges becoming a hairdresser […] clearly demonstrates why regulatory control is still very much needed”.
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Featured image: Engineers_17 via Flickr