Former Conservative skills minister Matthew Hancock has called Labour’s plans to scrap Level 2 apprenticeships “a big mistake” as training and the skills gap took centre stage in the election campaign this week.
In February, Labour revealed that it would raise the minimum training standards for apprenticeships beyond the current Level 2.
Had that minimum standard been in place in 2013/14, the number of people completing a construction apprenticeship would have been slashed from 8,000 to 2,000.
Speaking to Construction News, Mr Hancock said: “Abolishing Level 2 apprenticeships takes away a rung at the bottom of the ladder and I think it is a big mistake.
“I’ve no doubt that it’s one of those proposals that sounds good in a ‘wonky’ study but doesn’t work on the ground.
“The whole point of apprenticeships is that they’re a ladder all can climb and taking away the first rung of that ladder would be a deep mistake.”
The energy minister rejected accusations that the increase in apprentice numbers over the course of the last parliament was as a result of the ‘dumbing down’ of training.
Sweett Group chief executive Douglas McCormick, who is also a commissioner at the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, told Construction News that he was concerned that politicians were “trying to outdo each other with numbers”.
He called for a “proper programme where the focus is on quality not numbers”.
The number of people starting apprenticeships has doubled under the coalition government to 2.2m, but Mr Hancock hit back at critics who have said the quality of training has suffered.
He said: “Some people say you’ve either got to have lots of numbers or you have to have good apprentices; I totally reject that trade off, which I think is quite pessimistic.”
Labour has also pledged to create up to 100,000 apprenticeships by requiring companies winning major government contracts to provide for them.
Mr Hancock described the proposal as “a box-ticking attitude”.
He added: “We don’t think there needs to be a bureaucratic requirement [to provide apprentices]; instead of having a quota that’s written up for an election manifesto, there needs to be a business case.”
Training has become a key election battleground in recent weeks.
On Tuesday, David Cameron said a Conservative government would fund 50,000 apprenticeships by using fines imposed on Deutsche Bank for manipulating lending rates.
Meanwhile, Nigel Farage has blamed the influx of foreign workers for firms’ reluctance to train apprenticeships.
In an interview with Construction News, the Ukip leader said: “It is cheaper to employ experienced migrants than to provide proper apprenticeships – on-the-job apprenticeships for local youngsters.”