Learning and Work Institute has launched a new essay collection with leading experts setting out ways to improve the quality of apprenticeships and ensure fair access to training.

The Government’s apprenticeship reforms are the biggest in a generation and include the Apprenticeship Levy, a payroll tax on large employers with the money ring-fenced for apprenticeships. One year in, the number of apprenticeship starts is down 25%, leaving the government increasingly off target for its aim of three million starts by 2020.

In the new essay collection, Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the Education Select Committee, calls for half of young people going to higher education to be apprentices and for part of the Levy to be set aside to help prepare people for apprenticeships.

Tom Richmond, Senior Research Fellow at Reform and one of the architects of the reforms calls for a much greater focus on the quality of apprenticeships, and argues that many of today’s apprenticeships would not meet international benchmarks. He cites the example of retail apprentices who learn a much narrower range of skills in England compared to apprentices in Germany.

Other essays highlight stark inequalities in access to apprenticeships. Apprenticeship applications from people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds are half as likely to succeed as applications from white backgrounds. Women made up only 600 of 17,500 engineering apprenticeships.

The new report calls for urgent action to tackle these inequalities and boost quality. Ideas for change include devolution so cities and local areas have greater control; an Apprentice Premium to better support under-represented groups; and requiring all apprenticeship standards to meet the world’s best.

Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the Education Select Committee, said:

“My dream is for this country to become an apprenticeship and skills nation, where everyone, no matter their background, can climb the educational ladder of opportunity. I believe we are making progress, but there is more to do. Money should be set aside from the Levy to create an apprentice social justice fund to help people reach the ladder of opportunity and aid their climb. And as I have said many times, half of students in higher education should be apprentices. “

Stephen Evans, Chief Executive of Learning and Work Institute, said:

“The renaissance of apprenticeships in recent decades is welcome and the introduction of the Levy and other reforms were a bold step. But we need to do more to ensure all apprenticeships reach the standards of the best and so everyone has a fair chance to be an apprentice. Our research shows stark inequalities that need radical reform and a social partnership between government and employers.”

The essay collection will be launched at an event in the Houses of Parliament hosted by Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP and including a speech by Gordon Marden MP, Shadow Skills Minister

The full essay collection can be read here.