The majority of government departments will be given targets for boosting the number of apprentices they take on every year, under plans set out for consultation today.
Ministers have pledged to create three million new apprenticeships in both the private and public sectors by 2020, in a bid to ensure that more job opportunities are open to those who choose not to go to university.
As part of that drive, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills today confirmed that all public sector organisations employing 250 or more staff will be expected to meet a new, annual target for apprenticeships starts based on the size of their workforce.
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The target will call on public sector bodies – including 16 out of 24 ministerial departments and 16 out of 22 non-ministerial departments – to ensure that they create apprenticeships every year totalling at least 2.3% of their overall staffing levels.
Outlining the thinking behind the targets, which will be written into law, business secretary Sajid Javid said there was "more that can be done" to boost opportunities to enter the public sector workforce.
"In order to meet the 3 million starts commitment the public sector needs to improve from its current position of delivering comparatively fewer apprenticeships than the private sector," he said.
"Leveraging apprenticeships through the public sector will play a significant role in helping to deliver apprenticeship growth. This will include more apprenticeships within our departments and agencies, but also within the NHS and front line services.
"Expanding the number of apprenticeships will improve the capacity and capability of the public sector, ensuring that it benefits from the same positive impacts as in the rest of the economy and enable more people to achieve their potential."
According to the consultation document, public bodies covered by the target will have a duty to publish annual updates on their progress.
The department also seeks to calm fears – expressed by those including Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw in recent months – that a focus on the number of apprenticeships created may being undermining the quality of the schemes.
The document says: "We recognise that it is essential that apprenticeships provided by the public sector
are of a high quality. Government have already taken steps to improve the quality of apprenticeships and putting an end to poor-quality training lies at the heart of our reforms.
"We are introducing more rigorous testing and grading at the end of the apprenticeship to ensure that apprentices are reaching full occupational competence and from 2018, we will use apprenticeship outcomes data to produce performance tables for 16 to 19 year-olds.
"This will sit alongside apprenticeship success rates, which are already published by BIS, and will help to inform choice for young people and employers and drive up the quality of provision. Government also intends to establish a new, independent Institute for Apprenticeships (IFA) led by employers, which will support the quality of apprenticeships."
The target will sit alongside the existing civil service Fast Track apprenticeships scheme, which allows school leavers and non-graduates with strong GCSE results to join the government workforce in areas including business administration, cyber security and finance. According to the government, that scheme has already seen 700 apprentices taken on in three cohorts.
All bids for government contracts above £10m are also now scrutinised by officials at the Crown Commercial Service (CCS), with apprenticeship numbers written into winning firms' contracts so action can be taken if commitments are unmet.
Departments which are too small to be covered by the new 2.3% target – because their workforce is currently below the 250-employee size threshold – include the Attorney General’s Office, the Northern Ireland Office, the Scotland Office, UK Trade and Investment, and UK Export Finance.