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Legal protection for apprenticeships

Apprenticeships have become increasingly politically important in recent years and are often hailed as the best means to reduce youth unemployment. Figures from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) in 2014 showed that more than 350,000 of the UK’s 851,000 apprentices were over 25, with more than 50,000 aged over 50.

A recent report by the Institute for Public Policy Research claimed that 67% of apprentices at level 2 or level 3 are people who were already employed by their company, rather than new recruits, and since 2010, 42 per cent of starting apprentices have been over the age of 25. In addition it alleged that a significant cant proportion of companies are failing to comply with the apprenticeship minimum wage. This has prompted concerns that the term “apprenticeship” is being misused.

Under the proposed Enterprise Bill, which is currently before the House of Commons apprenticeships will be given equal treatment to degrees and the term apprenticeship will be protected in law. It is proposed that this will strengthen their reputation and ensure that apprenticeships are recognised as a career path equal to a degree.

Legal protection of the term “apprenticeship” will enable the government to take action where the term is misused to promote low quality courses. It is proposed that schemes will need to offer at least one years training and meet other requirements and criteria to be recognised as an apprenticeship.

It is currently proposed that misuse of the term “apprenticeship” would subject either the company or any of its officers or managers who are found to have consented to the offence or to have been negligent as to its use, to a fine.

In addition, the Secretary of State will be permitted by regulations to set targets for prescribed public bodies including schools, hospitals, prisons and police forces.

The Richard Review proposed various reforms to apprenticeships and the government is seeking to implement these reforms, particularly through its trailblazer programme. The proposals include standards being designed by employers for each sector.

The aim is that from September 2017 all new apprenticeship starts will be based on standards and assessments designed by employers.

Employers should regularly check to see whether standards have been approved for their sector. The government website provides details of approved apprenticeship standards and standards in development ( collections/apprenticeship – standards). If possible, they should start all new apprenticeships on a programme that meets the required standards.

Employers should also assess their current apprenticeships to ensure that they are likely to meet the new criteria and review this once the bill is finalised.

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