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Making the most of apprenticeships

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There’s been lots of discussion about technical and vocational education reforms since being announced in the Budget. While these structural reforms could have major impacts on the provision and uptake of education and training, it’s important not to lose sight of the role that other policy design features might play.

Our most recent toolkits consider this issue and ask what we know about the way in which different design features affect the provision, take-up and completion of apprenticeships in particular. 

We looked at three areas. First, we considered the role of pre-qualifications – programmes that precede an apprenticeship and aim to improve take-up or completion. As ever, the amount of available evidence is limited, but does suggest a positive effect on enrolment. The evidence on completion is a little less clear. This suggests that the role of pre-qualifications might vary depending on the objective of providing pre-apprenticeship programmes. The evidence also raises questions about when and how pre-apprenticeships should be taken. 

The second area we considered involved financial incentives. Specifically, we considered the effect of varying the wage paid to the apprentice, or subsidies given to the employer to hire and train apprentices. The available evidence suggests that increasing training wages relative to alternative employment can have a positive effect on completion rates. But it’s possible that higher training wages may not affect completion rates if the apprenticeship itself delivers a high wage bonus upon completion. This raises questions about how training wage levels should be set to encourage apprentices to take-up of complete their programme. We also found some evidence that the effect of employer subsidies might vary across industries – something which could have important implications for the targeting of support. (Again – usual caveats on the amount of available evidence apply).

The final issue we considered was the role of mentors. These are a cheaper option than either pre-qualifications or incentives, but the small amount of evidence available is, unfortunately, rather mixed in terms of the effectiveness. It would be great to know if there are ways of providing mentoring support that would increase effectiveness. 

This last point applies more generally. It would be great to see more piloting and testing of effectiveness of these different design elements. We know local areas want flexibility on financial incentives (some already have it). What can we do to ensure that we increase our understanding of the impact of different financial incentives. On mentoring, and other aspects of programme design, it is easy to develop ways of trialling different approaches. We’ll be working on these issues in the next months, so do get in touch if you’re interested in discussing further.