Latest apprenticeship figures show a reality a long way from the spin

To me, an apprenticeship always meant a young kid leaving school at 16, and instead of doing A Levels or a full time FE course, going to learn a trade for three of four years while doing a day or two at college. Not any more. Figures published in this report show that almost half (42%) of those starting apprenticeships are over 25 years old, and two thirds were already employed by their company before they started an apprenticeship.

Apprenticeships have been sold in recent years as being a solution to youth unemployment and as a viable option to the academic route. Young people are buying this message, but they are often finding the places just aren’t there. 16-18 years olds have made 57% of total applications for apprenticeships since 2010, but only made up 27% of starts.

The Coalition government expanded the number of apprenticeships quite significantly, but as the chart below shows, the number of 16-18 year olds apprentice starts has barely moved. What happened was that when previous training schemes like Train to Gain were wound down, employers simply replaced that training with apprenticeships – often of dubious quality, and often in occupations that traditionally wouldn’t require an apprenticeship qualification. For example, in 2011, Morrisons Supermarkets became Britain’s largest provider of apprenticeships.

Screenshot 2015-06-01 at 8.16.15 PM

Another perhaps surprising finding from the report was that even though the apprenticeship minimum wage is significantly lower than the normal minimum wage, 24% of 16-18 year old apprentices are not even being paid that. This is a scandal.

During the election campaign, David Cameron said:

“We’ve already created 2.2 million apprenticeships since 2010 but a future Conservative government is committed to opening up three million more high quality apprenticeships – to help strengthen our economy and communities and give millions more people financial security.”

This is a noble aim, but the reality is a long way from that ambition. As long as apprenticeships are just a way for employers to train their established workforce on the cheap, or for other employers to use them to exploit school leavers by paying them a pittance, apprenticeships will never be a pathway to a high skilled, high productivity workforce.


Calling bullshit on Labour’s “fiscal realism”

Yesterday we had the launch of the IPPR’s “Condition of Britain” report which I blogged about here. I criticised it for its lack of ambition and its blithe surrender to the ineviabilty of austerity. Indeed, at the launch, IPPR director Nick Pearce referred to austerity as “fiscal realism”. This attitude is pretty typical of Labour people and their hangers-on. I think “fiscal defeatism” would be more accurate. I spotted another example of this defeatism today on the Labourlist blog, in an article written by Labour blogger Emma Burnell. The article is about the IPPR report and starts with this:

“How does social democracy work when there isn’t any money? That is the question that has been taxing those at the top of the Labour Party for some time.”

It’s very common to read articles from “centre-left” people starting with an assertion like this, but my reason for mentioning this article is because of the response in the comments from fellow blogger Peter Martin. I hope he won’t mind me sharing it here:

Who says there isn’t any money? The amount of money in the economy is at least as high as it has ever been on any measure M0, M1, M2 etc. Whichever one you care to choose.

So to accept that “there isn’t any money” is to accept the political opinion, or rather the political propaganda, of the neo-liberals. We might expect to see that phrase on Conservativehome , and perhaps others of the same ilk such as “living beyond our means”, “spending more than we earn” , “spending like a drunken sailor”, “maxing out our credit card”. They are all nonsense. These are not phrases to be used on a Labour website. They are a neo-liberal fabrication to justify the reduction in the social wage. To make us all compete for every job vacancy. To ensure that we’ll take a minimum wage job knowing that if we don’t there will be ten others who will.

Anyone with an ounce of commonsense can see we are living below our means. We have building workers standing idle who could be building houses, hospitals and schools. We have youngsters who have worked hard to achieve teaching qualifications who can’t find a teaching job. Therefore the class sizes in our schools are bigger than they need be. We have young people who could be doing a 1001 things to make a contribution to society instead of festering in enforced idleness.

Every person on the dole represents a waste of resources.

Bravo sir! I think Peter is very good at explaining things clearly and more importantly concisely. It’s quite a rare skill. You can find his excellent blog here.

IPPR Report – Another Case of Garbage In, Garbage Out

Labour leader Ed Miliband launched a heavily-trailed new report this morning produced by Labour’s favourite thinktank the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) called “The Condition of Britain”. It has been said that it’s a report that will “define social democracy in the coming decade” and that it is “a Magna Carta for social democracy in the 21st century“. I think some people are too easily impressed.

The report (all 280 pages of it), contains 28 recommendations, which Labour seems to be largely adopting as party policy. The recommendation that caught the headlines was the one recommending scrapping benefits for 18-21 year olds, and replacing them with a means-tested “youth allowance”. This is so similar to Tory Party policy that George Osborne’s bitch Matt Hancock accused Labour of stealing their policy. Reading through the other recommendations though, it’s striking just how unambitious they are. Nothing is a great departure from the current direction of travel, and any of them could be adopted as Tory or Lib Dem policies without any eyebrows being raised.

Why is this? The IPPR label themselves as “centre-left”, and Labour should be looking for some eye-catching policies to differentiate themselves from the opposition. I think the problem is one of GIGO, or “garbage in, garbage out”. The underlying assumption before the report was even written was that austerity is a given, there is no money and every new commitment must be matched by a cut or tax hike elsewhere. So they paint themselves into a box and then say to themselves “within these constraints we have arbitrarily imposed on ourselves, what can we suggest to be different from the other lot? Answer: not very much it seems!

It seems to me that if they actually want to make a difference, the starting point needs to be “what would we like to do in an ideal world”, and work back from there. So in an ideal world, we might like to build everyone a mansion. Unfortunately, there is not enough land, building materials or labour to achieve that, but there may be enough of those things to ensure eveyone can live in decent accomodation at an affordable price. So what’s the IPPR’s recommendation on housing?

£Councils should be able to retain and reinvest a share of any savings achieved by local action to reduce housing benefit spending in their area. In addition to their existing powers, they should also be given greater freedom to borrow responsibly against their housing assets and income.”

We have quite a convoluted suggestion where somehow it is worked out a council has “saved” on housing benefit through their actions, and they can then use some of these savings to build houses, or they can borrow money to do the same. I’m not sure we should be encouraging councils to borrow more. They can go bust, and won’t be able to borrow at as low rates as central government (who can always borrow at 0% should they wish). Implicit is the IPPR’s recommendation is that there is enough land, labour and materials to build enough houses. If that’s so, wouldn’t a better suggestion be that central government just gives the money to build housing directly to local councils? Why over-complicate things?

Similar criticisms can be levelled at other recommendations. If you start with garbage assertions about the inevitability of austerity, the solutions you come up with are bound to be severely limited. It just makes Labour look a bit, well pointless.