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“The failure of the government’s policy on apprenticeships, like so many other schemes in the past, is no surprise; it was widely predicted. The levy has turned out to be a crude payroll tax. Businesses – which have no obvious need for or means of generating apprenticeships – are simply subsidising others. Even those who want to develop apprenticeships have found the inevitable bureaucracy debilitating and disincentivising.
“The essentially mediaeval concept of an apprenticeship made sense in a world where career paths were clear and industries lasted for generations. It is much more suited to manufacturing and to craft skills, which is why it continues to be of some significance in countries like Germany. The skills needed in Britain, with its focus on innovative services and high-tech start-ups, cannot in the main be taught by time-served graduates of apprenticeship systems.
“The levy should be scrapped. In areas where genuine apprenticeships – rather than schemes cobbled together to attract government funding – still make sense, the focus should be on potential apprentices rather than businesses. A form of loan system could enable young people to access high-quality training schemes which employers voluntarily provide.
“Government efforts should be confined to improving the quality of general education in schools – which would do more to boost future employment prospects and productivity than yet more attempts to recreate a mass apprenticeship culture.”