What would UCU like to see?

We have seen a massive expansion in apprenticeships since 2010, but this has been coupled with major concerns about short, poor-quality frameworks damaging the apprenticeship brand. Apprenticeships have mainly benefitted older people, while take-up amongst the younger cohort has been sluggish and too few apprenticeships have led to new employment.

Our manifesto proposes that apprenticeships would be strengthened by increasing their duration, strengthening progression to level 3 and ensuring that they offer a broad set of skills to help people with their transition into new work. This change would go hand-in-hand with developing a comprehensive pre-apprenticeship offer, as well as other high-quality training opportunities for those aged 25 and over which take account of their experience, and increasing the apprenticeship minimum wage.

Overall, the focus should be on quality rather than quantity, and apprenticeships should form part of a wider range of vocational opportunities to ensure that they remain a positive choice for young people. There should be an emphasis on partnership between education providers, employers and learners in designing effective frameworks.

What is each party proposing?

Conservative Party

  • Deliver 3 million apprenticeships by 2020, funded by reductions to welfare and housing benefit
  • Continue to replace lower-level, classroom based further education courses with apprenticeships
  • Expand degree-level apprenticeships

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(128 votes. Average rating: 3.04 out of 10)

Green Party

  • Place a duty on government to provide an apprenticeship to all young people aged up to 25 that want one
  • Increase apprenticeship funding by 30%

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(119 votes. Average rating: 6.88 out of 10)

Labour Party

  • Refocus apprenticeship spending on new job entrants and schemes which last at least two years and include a level 3 qualification
  • Create 80,000 more apprenticeships, including thousands in the public sector and government supply chains, and introduce ‘technical degrees'
  • Give employers more control over apprenticeships funding and standards in return for their sectors taking on more apprentices

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(121 votes. Average rating: 6.19 out of 10)

Liberal Democrats

  • Increase the number of apprenticeships and improve their quality, with a focus on expanding degree-level apprenticeships
  • Extend the apprenticeship grant for employers into the next parliament, delivering 200,000 grants
  • Double the number of businesses which hire apprentices

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(74 votes. Average rating: 4.65 out of 10)

Plaid Cymru

  • Continue to promote apprenticeships, particularly Higher Level Apprenticeships, as agreed in the 2012 Welsh Budget deal

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(53 votes. Average rating: 5.02 out of 10)

Scottish National Party

  • Generate 125,000 new Modern Apprenticeships over the next 5 years
  • Bring apprenticeship minimum wage in line with national minimum wage (£6.86 by 2020)

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(83 votes. Average rating: 6.10 out of 10)

UCU analysis

All of the major parties have made explicit commitments to provide more support for apprenticeships. In terms of increasing apprenticeship numbers, the Conservative proposals are most ambitious with 3 million mooted, but Labour and the Scottish National Party have also set firm targets for more modest increases in numbers.

The Liberal Democrats and Conservatives have focussed on financial incentives for employers as a way to boost apprenticeship places, with the Conservatives promising relief on Employers’ National Insurance Contributions and the Liberal Democrats proposing an extension of the apprenticeship grant. Labour has looked more at how public services and government contracts might help to stimulate growth in the number of apprenticeship opportunities, and this is echoed in the Greens’ proposals. The Scottish National Party also includes a proposal to bring the apprenticeship minimum wage in line with the national minimum wage.

All three main UK-wide parties, as well as Plaid Cymru, have included an emphasis on developing higher-level apprenticeship options. Labour has said that it would introduce new ‘technical degrees’ which would be led by universities.

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