Adult Learners' Week: What next for adult Apprentices?

Blog posts

15 Jun 2015

Becci NewtonBecci Newton

Adult Learners’ Week is an opportunity to celebrate adult learning in all its guises – including workplace training. Many people do not realise that adult employees are training through the apprenticeship programme – last year, 151,680 apprentices were aged 25 or older, with 2,480 aged 60 or more. There is huge policy interest in apprenticeships and the programme is currently being reformed – but what does this mean for adult learners in the workplace?

Over the past year, a growing number of employer networks have formed to define the skills, knowledge and, in most cases, the behaviours required by particular jobs. These networks, called Trailblazers, produce documents known as the Apprenticeship Standards. They then design an assessment scheme to ensure that Apprenticeships deliver the skills and abilities outlined in each Standard. At the time of writing, around 300 apprentices are being trained to four of the new Standards, with the number of Standards in use, and apprentices using them, predicted to rise over the next year. The Government’s plan is that by 2017/18 all apprentices should be training to the new Standards.

Positively, the new Apprenticeship Standards very directly reflect the skills that employers need, because it is they who have collectively defined the Standards. This should mean that workers trained to the new Standard are guaranteed to be able to gain work in their chosen role for any employer regardless of where they trained. In addition, in many sectors, their training will ready them for professional registration which, if pursued, will add a further string to their bow!

However, the new Standards will affect the training options for some adults, because they are designed for people who are new to their job (or returning after a lengthy period out of the workforce) who need a substantial period of training. This will remove the apprenticeship option from existing employees seeking to gain accreditation for the skills they have acquired through doing their jobs, as well as to brush up on English, maths and ICT skills. This group will need a form of training that is not an Apprenticeship – and at present, there are few signs of government, employers or training providers developing this.

So what is the prognosis for adult training at work? What is certain is that this is a time of flux. For Apprenticeship Standards to be sustainable there needs to be a significant number of employers using them to train a significant number of workers. If the Standards do not generate demand, there will be no impetus for training providers to offer them and they may fall out of use. But this is a low risk, because of the time employers have invested in their development, despite the lack of government funding to support this.

There is a business imperative for employers to find a solution for the needs of adults who currently use Apprenticeships: for businesses to be productive, employers need to maintain and ideally advance the skills of their workforce to stay abreast of the changing business environment – higher skills lead to increased productivity, and improving basic skills of the workforce, for example, can have considerable effect. However, it is often the case that government funding drives the training decisions made by employers. Without momentum being created by government funding, the picture for workplace training for adult learners is somewhat uncertain.