An Update on Apprenticeships

The concept of an apprenticeship dates back to the middle ages where a master craftsman would provide lodgings and training to a willing individual in return for cheap labour.

The primary purpose of this arrangement was training; secondary to that purpose was the employment of the apprentice.  This is what is known as a "common law apprenticeship".  In practice, this means that there is a higher threshold to satisfy when terminating a common law apprenticeship compared to that of any other employee.  The case law that developed demonstrated that any failings on the part of the apprentice were perceived to be failings on the part of the employer who was providing the training and were unlikely to be sufficient to justify terminating the apprenticeship.

By way of an example, a straightforward redundancy will not necessarily give the right to terminate the apprenticeship early unless the business is close to closure or there is a fundamental change in the character of the business.

Early termination of the apprenticeship risks a complaint of wrongful dismissal in that the apprenticeship has been terminated in breach of the apprenticeship contract.  Any compensation will be based not only on lost earnings for the remaining balance of the apprenticeship but also for the loss of expected earnings on achieving the qualification.

Apprenticeships cover more than 280 industry occupations and 1500 job roles.  A report published earlier this year by the Centre for Economic and Business Research estimates that apprenticeships will contribute £3.4 billion to the UK economy by 2022.  Understandably therefore apprenticeships are a hot topic for the Government. 

Having identified a need to change the legislative landscape relating to apprenticeships, the Government responded by introducing the Apprenticeship Skills Children and Learning Act 2009.  Provided that the employer has in place an apprenticeship agreement satisfying the "prescribed form" the primary focus of an apprenticeship is changed from training to that of employment.  However, if the apprenticeship agreement is not in the prescribed form then the arrangement will remain a "common law apprenticeship" and will be governed by the previous regime.

The "prescribed form" is based upon a normal written contract of employment with the inclusion of specific requirements.  This contract must include a statement of skill, trade and occupation of the apprenticeship in question and must also very clearly state that it is entered into in connection with a qualifying apprenticeship framework.  In practice it will also be important to consider including in the apprenticeship agreement the practicalities of the training arrangement and daily expectations on the apprentice.

Provided that an employer has in place the right contractual arrangement an apprentice can be treated in the same way as any other employee in terms of employment law.

Posted on: 29/05/2013

This article is for general guidance only. It provides useful information in a concise form. Action should not be taken without obtaining specific legal advice.

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