Deputy Minister sets out future priorities for apprenticeships in Wales

Deputy Minister for Skills and Technology, Julie James set out the Welsh Government’s future plans for apprenticeships during a keynote speech at the National Training Federation for Wales’ annual conference.

The plans include a focussed drive on increasing the number of sixteen to eighteen year olds starting apprenticeships, a keener emphasis on higher skilled apprenticeships, particularly in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) sector and better links between Further Education programmes and Apprenticeships.

The Deputy Minister also confirmed the UK Government’s introduction of an apprenticeship levy across the UK has influenced the Welsh Government’s decision to defer publication of an implementation plan for apprenticeships in Wales.

The apprenticeship levy, announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer is a levy to be paid across the UK by all large employers including the public sector.

The Deputy Minister said:

“We have developed an apprenticeships system that is well respected by employers, which offers the very best quality and the very best training. However, as our recent apprenticeship consultation revealed, there are areas where we can improve.

“There are too few sixteen to eighteen year olds starting apprenticeships. This has to change and that’s why we intend to re-focus our Young Recruits Programme to support additional sixteen to seventeen year old recruitment. Once we have put in place new plans for this age group, we would expect to see an increase to the six and half thousand places the network usually delivers.

“Many of our apprenticeships are also in sectors where the skills content is relatively low. This exacerbates the perception that apprenticeships are for those young people who are not capable of higher level skills.

“We must continue to grow apprenticeships in priority sectors and stretch them to meet emerging skill shortages in technical and highly skilled occupations, such as engineering and IT that will drive productivity.

“We have agreed to fund certain prescribed higher education qualifications when undertaken as part of a published Higher Apprenticeship framework. This will provide an additional stimulus to the employer market to kick start delivery in STEM related Higher Apprenticeships.

On the Welsh Government’s decision to defer publication of an implementation plan for apprenticeships in Wales the Deputy Minister said:

“I am entirely supportive of the principle that employers should contribute towards the costs of apprenticeships. However, the levy proposals have been designed without consideration of the implications for the whole of the UK and encroach upon Wales’ devolved responsibilities.

“For all large employers in Wales the levy represents an additional tax burden. Up until now the UK Government has not provided any information on the potential impact on the Welsh budget, so at this point in time I’m unable to provide any assurances to employers.

“But what is clear about the levy is that it impedes our ability to craft our own policy. This is why I am deferring publication of an implementation plan for apprenticeships in Wales until more is known.”