Blog: Ensuring apprenticeships meet the high standards our union expects

This week marks National Apprenticeship Week, an opportunity to recognise and support good quality apprenticeships, whilst fighting for much needed improvements.

This year it’s particularly important to focus on Apprenticeships, following the introduction of the ‘apprentice levy’ and a new training regime for apprentices this year. In order to meet an election commitment to deliver three million apprenticeships, the government introduced a new charge – the apprentice levy – on all employers with a payroll in excess of £3 million a year, which includes a large proportion of public sector employers.

The levy is then earmarked for approved apprenticeship training – either for newly hired apprentices, or for apprenticeships for existing staff. In addition, there’s also a target for public sector bodies (in England) with more than 250 employees, who have a target to employ an average of at least 2.3% of their workforce as new apprentices.

So far the new regime has had a slow start. The number of new apprenticeships is down on last year – the opposite of what was supposed to be achieved by this change. However, as employers continue to make levy payments (which they have to use or lose within 24 months), it seems reasonable to think that apprenticeship numbers will rise.

And that’s where UNISON’s apprenticeship charter comes in.

Launched last year, the charter is a tool to ensure apprenticeships deliver a positive outcome for both apprentices and employers. It spells out both what rights apprentices should have, and what responsibilities employers owe them, with the aim of creating apprenticeships that work for everyone.

Crucially, signatories to the charter are asked to guarantee that apprentices receive the same pay, terms and conditions as anyone else doing a similar job – meaning they’re paid fairly, and existing staff aren’t undercut.

So far several employers have signed our charter – including Hartlepool College and the Southport & Ormskirk Hospital NHS Trust – and shown their commitment to decent apprenticeship standards. Now, in National Apprenticeship Week, we want to see more employers signing up, and more branches using the charter on as a campaigning tool.

In the years ahead, apprenticeships look likely to become a much bigger part of the world of work, so it’s vital we ensure that employers are delivering apprenticeships that meet the high standards our union expects.