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Apprenticeships and the VCS - reply received to VSNW letter

7 August 2012

Following VSNW's Apprenticeships and the VCS event, VSNW's Chief Executive Richard Caulfield wrote to Dr Vince Cable outlining how the sector could help young people into employment.

We have received a letter back from BIS inviting us to a joint meeting with BIS and National Apprenticeships Service officials to discuss the issues and opportunities raised in further detail. 

The full letter we sent is available here: Apprenticeships and the VCS, 13 July 2012 letter and it outlines the findings of the 21 June 2012 event:

  1. Overview of the sector: In 2010 the voluntary and community sector employed around 790,000 people in the UK and consisted of more than 171,000 organisations. The great majority of organisations in the sector are small and are classed as ‘micro’ organisations (i.e. employ less than 10 staff). Difficulties faced by the sector are often similar to those faced by small to medium sized enterprises.

  2. Low take-up of apprenticeships: Our understanding is that take-up in the sector has been disproportionately low and that the three apprenticeship models for the sector (Campaigning, Volunteer Management, Fundraising) do not suit the micro-organisations that are the great majority of our sector. Even within the larger organisations, there are concerns that the three frameworks are often not suitable gateways for changing the lives of those with whom we work. In most VCS Organisations the roles of Campaigning, Volunteer Management and Fundraising would not be seen as suitable for young people and are an additional duty carried out by a senior manager.

    A better understanding of where (geography, organisational type) and how apprenticeships are currently being used in the sector would be beneficial both as a promotional tool and as a means to understand what is and isn’t working well.
  3. Common ambition: Throughout the event of 21st June 2012 , participants again and again passionately expressed their desire to find ways to use the apprenticeship scheme to generate employment and life-chances for those groups of people (“clients”) that their organisation is often best placed to work with.

  4. Preventing the slide into long-term care for vulnerable people: We feel that apprenticeships could offer an effective way into work for vulnerable people which could greatly reduce long term costs on the state. For instance, a modified apprenticeship framework could be used to help young people with learning difficulties avoid heading down the typical pathways (which often includes five years in adult education) into long term care. However, it was felt that the framework was not suitable in its current format.

    In particular: 
    4.1 Restrictions linked to getting onto level 2 are frequently an unhelpful and unnecessary barrier for vulnerable people.
    4.2 The mandatory elements around Maths and English were also seen as problematic and bureaucratic for some client groups.
  5. Pre-apprenticeship stepping stones: There’s a need for a pre-apprenticeship ‘stepping-stone’ approach and while we feel that the Access to Apprenticeships scheme provides part of the answer it is clear that more is needed for some groups of potential apprentices. There needs to be clearer links to pre-employment support along the lines of the Work Programme.

    Following on from this point, it was recognised that JobCentrePlus support is important. However this support is not available for 16-17 years or for 18 year olds with a learning disability. We hope that this gap in support can be addressed, either through JobCentrePlus or through other provision.
  6. Wrap-around support is catalytic: Wrap-around support for apprentices is key. As we saw in the delivery of the Future Jobs Fund in the North West (which created over 6,500 VCS jobs, an increase of just over 10% in the region), it was often this support that was crucial to changing lives and converting opportunities into genuine, longer-term employment. Wrap-around support (often available from other sources) was critical to making the most of government investment and fleshing out an effective intermediate labour market strategy.

    We also know that supported employment is critical when working with vulnerable young people and adults (as mentioned above).
  7. Simplified documentation: There was consensus that the documentation for the apprenticeship frameworks is complicated. It is difficult to work out the relevant entry levels and which parts are mandatory elements. One proposal was for an UCAS style guide-book to be developed.
  8. Apprenticeships for SMEs: The current scheme does not necessarily suit small to medium sized enterprises (VCS or private sector). Individual jobs in smaller employers often require individuals to take on a number of roles. We need people who have more than one area of speciality and who are flexible and we did not see these key SME requirements as incompatible with the longer term needs of our sector’s, or many other sectors’, workforce. We therefore felt that we need a combined apprenticeship offer and we understand that a possible “bolt on” version is being considered. We would welcome this and see this as critical to opening up the scheme to the needs of smaller employers.
  9. Promoting VCS apprenticeships: It was also recognised at the event that as an ‘industrial sector’ we need a strategy (of which apprenticeships could be a key part) to promote our sector as a rewarding environment in which to work. We would hope that DBIS would be interested and more than capable of encouraging and working with the sector on this issue.
  10. A framework to reflect different people and different needs: On a final note, we recognise that the apprenticeship framework as it currently stands does not suit large numbers of individuals. However, the scheme offers the tantalising possibility that if it were made a little more accessible (in some of the ways we have tried to outline above) it could change lives and greatly reduce dependency on the state.


The event,  held on the 21st June 2012 in Manchester, was a jointly facilitated by VSNW and Network for Europe. Participants included organisations interested in using the apprenticeship scheme as well as organisations seeking to support local groups in their thematic and/or geographic areas of activity/benefit. Speakers included representatives from the National Apprenticeship Service, The Manchester College, Rathbone and Learning Together Cheshire & Warrington. Presentations and the agenda are available here: Apprenticeships and the VCS.


Further reading:

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Contact Us

Voluntary Sector North West
St. Thomas Centre
Ardwick Green North
M12 6FZ
Tel: 0161 276 9300
Fax: 0161 276 9301