Apprenticeships were front and centre of skills minister Nick Boles’ forward-looking speech on UK skills strategy. The focus, he said, will be on dramatically increasing the number and quality of apprenticeship programmes: he described the approach as “adding rungs to a ladder”, with the focus now on “adding some rungs to the top” by creating new, high-level apprenticeships. He also spoke of the importance of employers in taking on apprentices, and discussed changes to encourage more employers to do so. With both main parties championing apprenticeships at last year’s party conferences, the scale and quality of apprenticeship programmes is set to remain a hot political issue in the next parliament. And this political consensus reflects the successes achieved so far under administrations of both hues. There has, for example, been a huge expansion in the number of apprenticeships: in 2013-14 around 440,000 apprenticeship starts were recorded, up 57% from 280,000 in 2009-10 (though panellist Nick Linford, a specialist journalist and businessman, stressed that success should be measured by the number of completions rather than the number of starts). There is also strong evidence that apprenticeships deliver better returns on investment than other further education programmes. Boles (pictured) quoted recent business […]

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