NSoA General Election Manifesto 2024

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Hearing what apprentices have to say

We want to make sure that when decisions are made about apprenticeships that apprentices are part of that discussion. Not just talking about apprenticeships but talking to apprentices.

We represent apprentices across the UK regardless of where they work or what they are learning. From Ballymena to Billericay, Orkney to Orpington we speak to apprentices about their work, education and the communities they live in.

This manifesto contains some of the ideas apprentices have proposed to turn apprenticeships from a second choice to the best of both worlds.


Joined up thinking:

When it comes to child benefit the Department of Work and Pensions does not consider an apprenticeship “approved education or training”. Young apprentices choosing to earn the apprentice minimum wage are also losing their family budget a further £100 a month.

The idea that an apprenticeship isn’t approved education or training is probably the silliest example of the way the social security system hasn’t kept up with apprenticeship reform.

There should be a review of the social security system so that apprentices aren’t penalised for learning and working.


Responsible government spending:

Governments spend our money providing services and infrastructure that we all need and use. We think the companies that bid for contracts from government should have to commit to providing high quality apprenticeships paid a fair wage, the living wage.

There are examples around the country of devolved governments and metro mayors insisting that if you want to make money providing services to the public you should do so in a way that promotes decent work and quality apprenticeships.

Public procurement should promote excellent apprenticeships.

Gender equality in education quality:

Alongside chronic and endemic underpayment of apprentices the most pressing issue facing apprentices across the UK is the quality of their education. Previous governments have attempted to improve this through the IFATE, the introduction of Apprenticeship Standards and reforms to apprenticeship delivery and governance in Wales and Scotland. We have however seen no significant shift in the number of apprentices receiving the training that they are entitled to; that training providers are paid for and that entitles employers to pay apprentices a reduced rate. The recent EDSK report and apprenticeship pay surveys dating back to 2014 have highlighted apprenticeship training being paid for, but not delivered.

Day release allows apprentices to engage with other apprentices, compare experiences and access support services available within an FE college. Despite a decade of cuts FE colleges still provide access to childcare, student support, mental health support as well as sex and relationships education. In the run up to the forthcoming election we have also seen FE colleges support voter registration drives ensuring young people are not disenfranchised.

The data available suggests that the apprenticeships that are least likely to be delivering the legal minimum requirement of off the job training are those apprenticeships that are predominantly done by women. It cannot be right that we have an apprenticeship system that ensures high quality training and education through day release for young men, in engineering and construction, and another in social care and retail where an apprenticeship simply means low paid work with no education or training.

It's time to return to Day or Block release for all apprenticeships.


A Living wage for all:

The apprentice minimum wage remains a barrier to participation and a brake on the social mobility potential of the apprenticeship system. Apprentices consistently identify low pay as having a negative impact on their learning, ability complete their apprenticeships and their mental health.

The original rationale for the apprentice minimum wage was that it was  “the apprentice’s contribution to the cost of their training”. The gap between the apprentice minimum wage and the living wage is now so great that an apprentice working full time will be contributing more to the cost of their education than an undergraduate does in their tuition fees.

Accessible affordable housing should be available to all. Apprentices face significant challenges with a lower wage and one way this impacts us is the inability to join the housing market. Apprentices cannot save for a deposit and many tell us about struggling to pay rent.

Housing is a basic need that is put in jeopardy with the current minimum wage. It also presents a barrier to young people who already have homes and are looking to train or retrain. This risk is felt most acutely by those of us who have experienced either homelessness or are care experienced.

Every apprentice should be paid at least the living wage.


Autoenrollment pensions at 18:

We know that saving for retirement is important. Pensions and Pensioners are important at every election. We think apprentices, and their employers, should be supported to start saving earlier.

Autoenrollment should start at 18.

New deal for hard working apprentices:

Across the UK we see employer led and employer owned apprenticeship governance organisations and we think we’ve found a model that works better. Through our work with the European Apprentice Network, we’ve seen social partnership models where government, employers, educators and apprentices themselves work together to ensure the apprenticeship system works for everyone.

The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education made a brave start in normalising the idea that apprentices should be part of the decisions made about us. The Apprentice panel has produced some really exciting research over the years. But we think it could be better. We think apprentices should choose who represents them.

We know that excellent apprenticeships are life changing. We also know that not all apprenticeships are excellent. Too many apprentices don’t receive their off the job training, too many apprentices aren’t properly supported in their workplaces and too many apprentices don’t know where to go when things go wrong.

We need a new body to govern apprenticeships. It should be created on the principles of social partnership with democratic apprentice voice at its heart. It should provide a robust complaints process for apprentices.  


No hidden costs for apprentices:

We celebrate when young people get into their apprenticeships. The hidden costs come as a nasty surprise. From tools to uniforms, the costs mount up quickly with no forewarning. Transport costs, despite the promises made by previous governments, remain a significant expense for apprentices. As an example last year we spoke to a group of 150 trades apprentices, two thirds of whom were on the apprentice minimum wage, who spent an average of £600 in the first year of their apprenticeship.

In 2021 our sister organisation JOB MBO in the Netherlands successfully campaigned for grants and bursaries to be made available to vocational students to pay for essential tools and equipment.

As a first step the hidden costs of tools and equipment need to stop being hidden. It should be clear at application what equipment an apprentice is expected to purchase and how much that is likely to cost.

We should study the Dutch system to learn how to eradicate the hidden cost of education.  


New apprenticeships Gateway:

We think it’s too complicated to find an apprenticeship and compare our options. We’d like to see a single application portal with a standardised application system for all publicly funded apprenticeships. Having some apprenticeships in the UCAS system is both a great start and an example of how this might work.

The new Apprenticeship Gateway is excellent progress, and we want to see this flourish.

Every apprenticeship should be available through a central application site. It should include education and advice about how to apply for apprenticeships as well as your rights as a young worker.


Apprenticeships – A whole education:

We can start our apprenticeships as young as 16. Apprentices, even those of us much older than that, are often unsure about how pensions work or how to read a payslip. We think they are core life skills. Key skills are already incorporated into our apprenticeships. We think this should be expanded to include financial literacy and how our democracy works.

In 2022 we met with OeBB apprentices from Vienna. Their apprenticeships included opportunities to take up sports, learn modern languages, short and long term international exchanges and collaborative projects with apprentices on different programmes. We think our apprenticeships are too narrow and we don’t think these kind of enrichment opportunities should be limited to students at university.

The UK should match the European target of 15% of apprentices taking part in international learning exchanges.

Apprenticeship funding should be expanded to include a broader curriculum.


A political system that represents us and works for us:

We look at politics, from councillors to MP’s; in Westminster, Stormont, Holyrood and the Senedd and it doesn’t look us, it doesn’t sound like us and it doesn’t look like it’s working. We think that the politicians making decisions about us should be people like us.

We want to ask political parties to commit to programmes supporting apprentices and other young people who haven’t been to university to become not just the next generation of plumbers and care workers but also the next generation of leaders and politicians.

Using the work of 50:50 Parliament parties should fund a similar programme for working class young people.


We deserve to have the same quality of education as all students and the same rights in the workplace as all workers. We should not be getting the worst of both worlds while we struggle with poverty wages.

This manifesto provides a range of solutions and goals to improve apprenticeships for both apprentices, employers and providers alike. Together we can give apprentices the best of both worlds as students and workers.