The Richard Review of Apprenticeships, carried out by entrepreneur Doug Richard, forms part of the government’s enquiry into the future of apprenticeships in England. Having received submissions from across all sectors of the economy, including passenger transport, the review’s recommendations are designed to secure the future of apprenticeships in England.

Richard’s recommendations include:

• Redefining apprenticeships so they are targeted solely at those who are new to a job or role that requires sustained and substantial training
• Focusing on the outcome of an apprenticeship – what the apprentice can do when they complete their training – and freeing up the process by which they get there. Trusted, independent assessment is key.
• Recognised that industry standards should form the basis of every apprenticeship
• All apprentices should reach a good level in English and maths before they can complete their apprenticeship
• Government funding must create the right incentives for apprenticeship training. The purchasing power for investing in apprenticeship training should lie with the employer.
• Greater diversity and innovation in training – with employers and government safeguarding quality.

Ruth Asker-Browne, who is responsible for apprenticeship policy at People 1st, the sector skills council for hospitality, passenger transport, travel and tourism in the UK, says that many of the recommendations accurately reflect the rail industry’s views.

‘The rail industry is very adaptable and employers are keen to make the most of what’s available, so the Richard Review recommendations are mostly welcomed.’

While the rail industry is not a significant employer of apprentices at the moment – just three per cent of employers currently offer apprenticeships1 – there is a strongly held view across the industry that apprenticeships could offer significant returns in the future.

A major research report into the labour market trends, skills, education and training in the passenger transport industry released last year showed that more than half of businesses (57 per cent) would consider employing an apprentice in the future2.

With a number of apprenticeships in the rail industry available, including driving, guards, signalling, rail operations and shunting, there is a wide scope for the training and development of apprentices. And with the Richard Review highlighting the importance of apprenticeships having a clearly defined identity within industries and clarity on where a career can lead for staff, there is strong incentive to increase the numbers of people undertaking apprenticeships.

Asker-Browne notes however that the significant age restrictions imposed on those working in the rail industry could be a deterrent to attracting younger staff members and apprentices in particular.

‘The strong health and safety element present in the rail industry prevents the traditional audience for apprenticeships – young people – undertaking this kind of on-the-job training, especially as this is the principal form of government funding available for training.

‘Many employers have found their hands tied as full funding for apprenticeships is only available for 16-18 year olds, while 19-24 year olds only get part-funded.

‘This shows in the numbers of people completing rail apprenticeships: since April 2012 only 11 people completed an apprenticeship ranging in age from 22 to 31. That means that no employer would have been eligible for the maximum allowance to pay for this training,’ says Asker-Browne.

The Richard Review does offer a glimmer of hope for businesses that would like to provide more on-the-jobtraining, with the recommendation that the government promote apprenticeships to a far broader age range, and offer funding for vocational training other than apprenticeships.

Asker-Browne believes this would be a welcome development in that it would open the doors to a wider range of vocational training for rail employees.

‘At the moment, attracting younger people into the industry is difficult – working in rail is currently seen as a second or third career option. We need to make sure we promote the fantastic career options that are available and show them the career paths and progression routes that are available to them from a young age. They can work their way up to an apprenticeship.’

One aspect that may affect this possibility, however, is the interpretation and implementation of a number of the other recommendations in the review.

‘The recommendation that apprenticeships should only be offered for new job roles will no doubt cause concern, especially in areas such as engineering and the electrification of rail, which are two growing areas within the huge rail programmes taking place throughout the UK,’ said Asker-Browne.

‘There are already significant skills gaps in these two areas and restricting access to funding for on-the-job training is not going to help matters at all.

‘I think it’s safe to say in this case that the devil will be in the detail; the ‘if’ and ‘how’ the government interprets and implements this will make a big difference.’

Asker-Browne also believes there could be some issues with the strong emphasis on an exam or test as the final form of assessment at the end of the apprenticeship, saying: ‘We’re not sure that this would be in the learner’s interest.

‘One of the great things about the current system is that apprentices need to show their competence in tasks along the way – it’s built into their learning. With health and safety playing such a huge role – both for staff and the people in their care on the trains – demonstrating that you’re competent in one task before you move onto the next area of learning is highly important. Again, it will come down to how this recommendation is implemented.’

Overall, however, Asker-Browne is positive. ‘We’re keen to work with both the government and employers to help them prepare for any changes that arise from recommendations made in this review.’

Meanwhile, there’s no doubt that an increase in on-the-job training – both in the form of apprenticeships and other vocational training – is the right approach to address skills gaps in the rail industry.

Read the Richard Review of Apprenticeships at