Labour Market

The Prime Minister’s commitment to provide guaranteed apprenticeships to young people is “foolish”, says IEA expert


In the Media

Shanker Singham quoted in Financial Times

In the Media

Julian Jessop quoted in the Financial Times

Responding to the Prime Minister’s pledge to guarantee apprenticeships to young people post-pandemic, IEA Editorial and Research Fellow Professor Len Shackleton said:

“Boris Johnson’s commitment to provide guaranteed apprenticeships to young people is foolish.

“No government can guarantee the sort of high-quality apprenticeship that Mr Johnson seems to have in mind. Many governments have tried unsuccessfully over the last forty years to boost apprenticeships. For example the Cameron government was determined, after a range of scandals which saw apprenticeship ‘providers’ taking government money to award worthless qualifications, to improve matters.

“But its planned apprentice levy, operationalised under Mrs May, has turned out to be a farce, with numbers of apprenticeships having actually fallen, few of them pitched above the most basic level, and many businesses unable to access levy funds for appropriate training because of bureaucratic rules.

“The only way governments can ever ‘guarantee’ apprenticeships is to pay employers to take on subsidised workers who are awarded low-level qualifications by outside bodies which make a living from this sort of scam.

“The concept of an apprenticeship anyway is an archaic hangover which Adam Smith denounced in The Wealth of Nations. It assumes that there is an established body of skills which can be learnt while young people provide cheap labour. The new skill needs of the 21st century are changing far too rapidly to be set out in formal qualifications determined by industry training bodies (in reality usually superannuated consultants).

“This latest wheeze is yet another example of governments believing that they are the solution rather than the problem. If the UK labour market is to recover quickly it will be through employers being free to make their own choices about training and recruitment, relieved of the most irksome forms of job-destroying employment regulation – not by the government telling or bribing them to take on apprentices.”


For media enquiries, please contact Emily Carver, Media Manager: 07715 942 731.

Prof Len Shackleton, IEA Editorial and Research Fellow, is available for further comment.

For more on apprenticeships:
The apprenticeships levy and apprenticeship targets: the economics of the cargo cult

The mission of the Institute of Economic Affairs is to improve understanding of the fundamental institutions of a free society by analysing and expounding the role of markets in solving economic and social problems.

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