This piece of writing is part of a series of blogs designed to stimulate discussion around the five key elements of the ERSA Manifesto: commissioning, complex needs, skills, employer needs, youth employment. Any opinions represented within this blog are the authors and do not represent the views of ERSA.

Welcome to National Apprenticeships Week 2015!

This year’s theme is very apt: `Get in, Go far’. It confirms our view that it’s all about career journeys, nurturing and developing talent for the current and future work force. Once people get started there is no telling how far they will go.

Both government and opposition have made big promises about apprenticeships. The Prime Minister announced that if the Conservatives are re-elected they will deliver three million apprenticeships by 2020. Mr Milliband pledged that Labour would create an extra 80,000 high quality apprenticeships a year in England.  However we think it is important that `high quality’ should not mean removing Level 2 apprenticeships.

As a leading apprenticeships provider and partner with over 300 employers, 88% being SMEs, we know that there is a lot to cheer about when it comes to apprenticeships.  According to the government, we have seen two million apprenticeship starts since 2010 and 90% of apprentices stay in employment after finishing their apprenticeship.

Apprenticeships are currently undergoing a period of change and reform. There are 15 new standards, designed by industry employers, ready for delivery and many others being developed. These guarantee a standard of skills and responsibilities similar to a job description, which will be key in ensuring that both employers and apprentices get what they need.

We applaud the focus on occupational roles within specific industries. Some roles are common to many industries and sectors (such as sales, customer service, marketing, and business development) and we must ensure that there is genuine collaboration between the different ‘Trailblazer groups’ designing the standards, otherwise we will end up with different standards for the same roles and professions in different industries. This could result in the duplication of effort and resources; as well as confusion amongst apprentice learners and professional bodies.

It is good to see the Minister for Skills and Equalities listened to providers and employers and is reviewing how apprenticeships will be funded.  Catch22 recommended that the Government evaluated the learning from the pilot funding model which is based on the Government providing £2 for every £1 cash contribution made by the employer up to the Maximum Government Cap for each apprenticeship standard. The focus on cash contributions from employers is important to ensure parity with investment in commercial training. However, it is wrong to disregard the in-kind contributions and goodwill often provided by employers.

Its also positive to see the focus on the pursuit of excellence and raising standards although there is work to be done to ensure Ofsted’s incredible expertise is brought to the table sooner rather than later. The Ofsted `Better Inspection for All’ consultation and subsequent response was focused on a new common inspection framework from September 2015. However, this document makes no reference to apprenticeship reform, so how will excellence be measured with the new standards?

Catch22 was pleased that the Government recognised the importance of functional skills such as maths, English and ICT. Of course progression is important and some apprentices will take higher qualifications in these subjects as they go further in their careers or into higher education –but let’s not throw out functional skills just because they are not GCSEs.

Overall we need to use apprenticeships as a talent pipeline for employers.  As a provider we work hard to nurture this talent with employers, focusing on mindset for work. Professor Bill Lucas calls this `learning methods at work’, and indeed the right mindset is key.

In supporting learners to develop these qualities – willpower, positive habits, practising and reflection – we are giving our apprentices and our employers the best chance of success.