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Year-long apprenticeships: forcing out flexibility or locking in quality?

Monday, 23 July 2012
By: Anthea

When the Government announced the introduction of the minimum 12 month duration of an apprenticeship - what were your first thoughts? Did you welcome it with open arms as a necessary step towards improving apprenticeship quality? Or did you think about all the potential issues that may arise?


Our recent poll revealed that a large number of people are unsure whether a minimum duration of 12 months for apprenticeships is a positive step for the apprenticeship brand.

On the one hand, the introduction of the 12 month duration for an apprenticeship can only be a good thing, as apprenticeships delivered in less than 12 months have been said to be damaging the apprenticeship brand. We need only remember the recent Panorama documentary, ‘The Great Apprentice Scandal’, which lifted the lid on poor quality training, dissatisfied apprentices and rogue providers who delivered in 13 weeks or less to remind ourselves why the soon-to-be enforced 12 month duration is a step in the right direction.1

Furthermore in 2010/11, 19% of apprenticeships lasted six months or less, with 3 per cent lasting just three months or less. This is an increase from the figures in 2008/09 where 12% took six months or less and 2% three or less, indicating that apprenticeships are now taking less time to complete. The problem here is that delivering apprenticeships in this timeframe does not allow enough time for comprehensive training and the development of apprentices’ skills.

The fundamental aim of apprenticeships is to equip learners with the skills, knowledge and competencies required for progression within their chosen profession – but, as many have questioned, can this be successfully achieved within six months or less? And at what price? Many would suggest that the quality of apprenticeships is severely impinged when delivered in less than 12 months, and would therefore support the introduction of the 12 month minimum duration.

On the other hand, critics have argued that some apprenticeships simply do not warrant a year-long duration. It appears that we are asking apprentices, regardless of what framework and level they are undertaking to remain on a training scheme for a minimum of 12 months. But is this fair? Should we expect learners to remain on a framework for 12 months regardless? Or should more flexibility be allowed in apprenticeship completion times depending on things such as level, framework type and learner ability?

Another concern is that “capable” learners’ who can finish an apprenticeship in less than 12 months may become disillusioned over their programme, while prospective apprentices may look to other means of up skilling rather than facing a daunting 12 months locked in an apprenticeship.2

Overall, we must always make sure that the winner of an apprenticeship is the apprentice. If introducing a minimum of 12 months does this, then it should be supported. If not, then we must continue to look at other ways to improve quality.

1 BBC NEWS (2012) – The Great Apprentice Scandal
2 The Training provider college (2012) - One Year Apprenticeships


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Comments (6)

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  • Anthea
    @ShaneChowen. I agree. There is a lot to learn from looking at the Swiss apprenticeship model as well as the German and Austrian systems which are very similar. Their systems are not just concerned with ‘mastering’ an occupation but fostering independent and innovative thinking. Apprenticeships in those three countries last somewhere between 2 - 4 years. I think we can learn a lot from these apprenticeships, particularly how and why their apprenticeships are so successful.
  • Surely an apprenticeship has to be about developing skills and knowledge in order to 'master' an occupation; to set you up on the road to becoming an expert. I spent some time looking at the Swiss apprenticeship model where most apprenticeships are three year minimums, but visited some companies where they demand four year programmes. We need to be clearer about the difference between on the job training and an apprenticeship.
  • Anthea
    @Nathan Pearson Smith
    Thanks for the comment. It is situations like the one you have mentioned which make it important for us to weigh up the possible advantages and disadvantages of this minimum duration. It will be interesting to see, over the next year or so, if the introduction of this minimum duration has a detrimental effect on lower level apprenticeship take-up, as well as retention rates.
  • Hi Anthea,

    I think you've raised a very important issue in the apprenticeship arena. I myself completed a Level 2 apprenticeship last year - only lasting 3 months. The reason I applied for this that specific reason, it was such a short period I knew I would be able to commit to it. 12 months is a long time to keep someone under a training scheme on such a low pay grade.

    The same people that enforced this rule should ask themselves would they make such a commitment.

    Twitter: @NathanPearsonWH
  • Anthea
    @Letmein Thanks for noticing that, good catch! That's been fixed now.
  • Rogue not rouge please.