To be sure there are now increasing numbers of apprenticeships, although still too few in the engineering and technical areas. The new apprenticeship levy starts this month, aiming to boost this momentum further – three million apprenticeship starts during this Parliament, so by 2020, is the government-stated ambition, with this underpinned by the activities of the Apprenticeship Delivery Board (there were 2.4 million apprenticeship starts in the previous Parliament). And now, parity of esteem is also being tackled.

Chancellor Philip Hammond has heralded a transformation in technical education, backed by £500 million a year. Part of this is the creation of 15 new “world class routes” of “equal value” to A levels. This initiative draws on last year’s Report of the Independent Panel on Technical Education ( (A member of the report’s panel was Baroness Alison Wolf, who Machinery interviewed in the 1980s about the UK’s poor technical education record; she is an undoubted expert.)

These 15 new routes will result from a streamlining of an estimated 13,000 technical qualifications. That sounds a little alarming, but as a general indication of proliferation the above cited publication noted that there are 21,000 qualifications on Ofqual’s Register of Regulated Qualifications, offered by 158 different awarding organisations. And for those aiming for a future in plumbing, for example, there is a choice of 33 qualifications. Confused employees and employers is the result.

The report proposed solutions, including better management of this area by a new Institute for Apprenticeships; the latter comes into existence this month as part of the Technical and Further Education Bill (yet to receive Royal Assent, as we went to press), although this new body will become the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education in April 2018.

By 2020, in terms of developing intermediate skills (Levels 2 and 3), the UK is set to fall to 28th out of 33 OECD countries. For low skills (below Level 2), the country will see no improvement on its 18th position. Improvement at tertiary level (Level 4 and above) from 11th to 7th is, however, predicted (source: But this is all somewhat behind the 2006 Leitch Review’s vision of the UK becoming a “world leader in skills” by 2020 (

The first of the new 15 routes commences in 2019, so there will be no 2020 skills miracle, but this latest initiative, as a step along the path to elevating technical education, is very much welcome.

First published in Machinery, April 2017