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Evaluation should be at the heart of the Government’s three million new apprenticeships commitment

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Apprenticeships are high on the political agenda, with a commitment from government to create three million new places by 2020. Understanding how to make the most of these new places must be a priority for policymakers in Whitehall and local authorities alike.

Last week we published our latest review, which refreshingly demonstrated that apprenticeships do have a positive impact, particularly for the individual on a scheme. There was some evidence to suggest that apprenticeships had a positive impact on employment and wages, and we found particularly strong results for higher level apprenticeships.

The roll out of such a large number of new places, however, is a great opportunity to evaluate how apprenticeships work, and begin to fill some of the evidence gaps that our review uncovered.

We know that the skills gained by apprentices raise the pool of human capital across the UK. But getting to grips with how apprenticeships impact on a local economy is more difficult. If apprentices stay in their local area after completing a programme, workforce quality in the area rises. However, we found no impact evaluations looking at whether they do stay.

Also, there is no evidence that looks at the difference between nationally and locally-run schemes. At a time when further devolution has meant that Greater Manchester will now have control over the employer apprenticeship grants budget, with other cities potentially following suit, now will be the time to understand whether local control does produce better outcomes.

Finally, given the substantial changes to the UK apprenticeship system in the past 15 years, more up to date evaluation from the UK is needed.

Increased devolution and a higher volume of schemes, provide the perfect opportunity for more experimentation of apprenticeship schemes, and development of a wider, deeper evidence-base. We must make the most of it!