THE Financial Skills Partnership has backed calls from MPs for urgent reform of the apprenticeships programme.
A report by the Business, Innovation and Skills committee concluded that apprenticeships should take a more prominent role and be seen as equal to study at university as the country looks to grow its economy through a wider range of industry related skills.
Last year 457,200 people started training as an apprentice, but the MPs identified room for improvement with the Government's £1.2bn a year training programme. Their report recommends a number of reforms, including a clearer policy on the purpose and goal of apprenticeships, as well as closer monitoring of their funding and effectiveness. It also calls for the National Apprenticeship Service to have a statutory responsibility to raise awareness of apprenticeships in schools.
Liz Field, chief executive of the Financial Skills Partnership, said: "The focus for apprenticeships shouldn't just be placed on how many we can implement without looking at the effect the apprenticeships are having on businesses.
"Apprenticeships are no longer stopgaps for those not sufficiently academically gifted, or privileged, to get into higher education. They are available in many more formats which cater to a greater number of job roles in industry sectors. Getting apprentices job ready with relevant skills which will boost their respective workforces should be the priority. They shouldn't just be there to make up the numbers.
"The brightest and most ambitious are now considering quality vocational training as an excellent alternative point of entry to a rewarding career. Their appetite should be matched by an established infrastructure whereby they can gain access to their chosen professions through apprenticeships which reflect the needs of the industry."
The Financial Skills Partnership, which supports employers in the sector in meeting their skills needs, has helped develop six apprenticeship frameworks currently being used, with more than 7,000 apprenticeships starting in 2011/2012 spanning disciplines from accounting, payroll, book-keeping and professional services to financial advice and mortgage advice.
Skills Minister Matthew Hancock said he would "consider carefully" the committee's report, adding: "Apprenticeships are vital for equipping people with the skills they need to prosper, and the nation with the workforce we need to compete in the global race. More than a million people have started an apprenticeship since 2010.
"The report rightly celebrates the sharp rise in the number of apprenticeships, and steps taken to improve their quality, but there is more to do."
The Government has asked entrepreneur and Dragons' Den panellist Doug Richard to report later this year on what should be done to improve the apprenticeship programme.