CII public affairs manager Daniel Pedley on changing attitudes towards apprenticeships

Apprenticeships policy in the UK is undergoing seismic change with the introduction of a compulsory levy on large firms. This will be applied to all large UK firms regardless of whether they employ apprentices or not and is part of George Osborne’s drive to increase apprenticeship numbers. It is also fundamental to his plan to create a system to emulate the celebrated one in Germany, Europe’s largest economy.

Germany’s apprenticeship system is often held up as the gold standard and has long been admired by policy-makers and politicians here in the UK.

Trying to replicate its success, however, will not be that straightforward because significant differences currently exist between the UK and Germany.

Apprenticeships in Germany are run on a ‘dual system’ where time is split between an employer and a training institute. The state pays for the functional element and the employer funds the competence aspect. Significantly they focus solely on 16-21-year-olds, acting as the bridge from school to employment.

There is a tradition of hiring and developing apprentices which means there is strong employer buy-in to the apprenticeship concept. German employers understand the benefits apprentices can bring. However, this does not tell the whole story as firms pay a levy and there are statutory duties on large employers to train apprentices. From this you can start to see influences on the Chancellor’s thinking.

Having a stable policy framework also helps. One of the main frustrations with the UK model is that it always appears to be in a state of change – whereas in Germany it is not.

The popularity of university is also a problem for apprenticeships. University remains the preferred choice for students, parents and many employers in the UK. This is less of an issue in Germany as the same university culture does not exist. Tackling the disparity between vocational and academic pathways in the UK is vital to the success of apprenticeships.

One of the keys to changing attitudes towards apprenticeship is ensuring robust standards. The employer-led trailblazer system, which the CII has been at the heart of, has seen the creation of new apprenticeship standards which will provide employers and apprenticeships with exactly what they require. With this, perhaps, we will start to see UK apprenticeships gain ground on their Germanic equivalents.