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The Welsh context (UK)

The Welsh economy is going through a considerable transformation both in terms of the types of goods and services that are produced or provided by business, and the nature of employment and job opportunities.  The Welsh Government, Policy statement on skills (2014), sets out the need to re-balance the economy and better meet the specific needs of business for a highly skilled workforce in order to be internationally competitive.  Wales need to build a stronger STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) offer and ensure that apprenticeships have market relevance. The jobs of tomorrow will require higher levels of competence than in the past and the apprenticeships programme needs to meet the challenge and support growth.

The apprenticeship landscape across the UK is also changing. The apprenticeship reform programme in England presents its own set of challenges, leading to uncertainties about apprenticeship framework development in the devolved nations under a model that has, up to now, relied on the strength of shared UK wide systems.  Wales is keen to ensure that the apprenticeship system is compatible with other UK systems, so that apprenticeships are portable across the UK. Against this backdrop, Wales has the opportunities to develop a model so that the content of apprenticeships strongly aligns with employer needs.  

The future economy is likely to be increasingly characterised by growth in jobs that require higher level qualifications and skills.  The Welsh apprenticeship model needs to respond to that need.  The Framework for co-investment, which sets out the principles for government and employer investment in skills was implemented in April 2015.  Raising the level of investment in skills is an essential part of the drive towards a more internationally competitive skills system for Wales.  If Wales is to close the gap with other parts of UK in terms of employer investment in skills, it is important that steps are taken to ensure that more employers are investing in the skills of their workforce.

Delivery priorities
Employment patterns for young people have shifted as the economy has moved from production and manufacturing towards service-based industries.  The future economy is likely to be increasingly characterised by growth in jobs that require higher level qualifications and skills.  Across the UK there is set to be an additional 3.6 million jobs in medium-skilled occupations by 2022.

Currently, the proportion of apprentices on foundation level 2 programmes is high, accounting for around 50% of all apprenticeship delivery.

Learners pursuing apprenticeships in Wales:

  Foundation
Apprenticeships
Apprenticeships
{Level 3}
Higher
Apprenticeships
2011/12 18,895 15,785 280
2012/13 23,345 18,755 2,470
2013/14 25,385 20,890 5,345
Source: Further Education, Work-based Learning and Community Learning in Wales, 2013/14 (provisional figures)

Meanwhile, those at higher levels {level 4 and above}, which are considered as alternatives to university, make up 10% of apprentices.  It is anticipated that businesses will increasingly require skills at level 3, 4 and 5 and the apprenticeship programme offer must reflect this need.

For some time it has been recognised that there has been an increased reluctance by employers to take on school leavers. This, in part, has been due to the large pool of university graduates from which to recruit. Success in improving access to higher education has provided opportunities for many and increased social mobility.  However, this has left many others at risk of being left behind.  There is a need to ensure there is a stronger level 3 and higher apprenticeship offer in Wales for individuals who choose not to follow the traditional university route.  Research has shown that higher apprentices can earn around £150,000 more over their lifetime, comparable to similar returns for the average graduate.

Wales is already investing in the development of higher apprenticeships.  Higher apprenticeships at level 4 and above were first introduced in 2011 and enrolments have grown rapidly since.  In October 2014, there were 41 published higher apprenticeship frameworks, mainly in Care, Management, Financial and Engineering sectors.  However, occupational coverage needs to be extended, for example, to the construction industry and all of the STEM sectors.

Up-skilling existing employees in new job roles
Apprenticeships should equip individuals with the new skills and learning they need for their job roles and future employment and progression.  On this basis, apprenticeships should be targeted at people who move into a new job or at individuals in an existing job where significant new knowledge and skills are required and can be acquired through an apprenticeship.

Currently there is no data that states how many apprenticeships are started by individuals who are new to their role.  The 2012 Apprenticeship Pay Survey found that over 82% of apprentices in Wales worked for their current employer prior to enrolling on an apprenticeship. Of these apprentices 71% worked for their employer for over a year prior to enrolment.

The developing Welsh landscape
The best apprenticeship systems are designed to reflect the needs of industry through a partnership approach.  Involving stakeholders in the design, delivery and assessment of apprenticeships is essential to having a responsive programme where the offer is visible and accessible.  Wales expects future growth to come from an increasing demand for, and investment in, priorities which are informed by employers.

Employers need to be able to clearly articulate their skill needs, and be given the opportunity to feed their needs into the design and development of skills programmes.  In the Netherlands for example, employers are heavily involved in helping to design and quality-assure training courses; offering work experience, as well as delivering their own apprenticeships and training.  In Northern Ireland, the establishment of a strategic advisory forum and sectorial partnerships aim to ensure that the provision and content of apprenticeships meet employer needs.

Currently the allocation of funding for apprenticeship enrolments is based on industry sector data.  There is an opportunity for Regional Employment and Skills Plans to replace the current methodology and to influence which apprenticeships Welsh Government supports on a cost neutral basis.  It is expected the earliest opportunity to affect any change will be 2016.

Subject to its establishment through the Qualification Wales Bill, there is potential for Qualification Wales to have a future role in a strategic and operational capacity in relation to apprenticeships.  The Welsh Government’s consultation on proposals to establish Qualifications Wales as the independent regulator and quality assurer of qualifications in Wales, showed strong support for the proposed new body to take on responsibility for apprenticeships and to be the ‘gatekeeper’ for apprenticeship frameworks in Wales.

If established, Qualification Wales’ role could include the provision of independent advice to government on the development of new apprenticeships and the review of existing ones.  Under such an approach, there is further potential for Qualifications Wales to be the designated Issuing Authority for apprenticeships in Wales.  This role is currently undertaken by SSCs, who ensure that frameworks meet the requirements set out in the SASW.

This role is congruous with proposed Qualifications Wales functions because many of the processes and requirements in the proposed functions of approval and qualifications can be applied to the role of issuing authority. However, it is recognised that it could distract from Qualifications Wales’ core functions, especially during the early stages of establishing the proposed organisation.

The proposed function of Qualification Wales would allow it to have the expertise to provide expert advice to the Welsh Government on a range of topics. This could include advice in relation to policy on apprenticeships where it was similar with its proposed areas of expertise such as on qualifications and assessment.

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