The chief executive of the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education delivered a keynote speech that stressed the need to refocus on quality as we emerge from the pandemic.

Jennifer Coupland spoke to delegates at the first Annual Apprenticeship Conference to be held in person, at the ICC, in Birmingham, for two years.

She recalled speaking at AAC 2020, just before the first Covid-19 lockdown, and thanked training providers and end point assessment organisations for doing so much to keep apprenticeships going since then.

She said: “I have seen how you have supported one another, united in your desire to put the interests of the learner first. You have done your level best to support employers and maintain your relationships with them – even when they were furloughing employees and unable to do their part for apprentices. I want to take this opportunity to say a massive thank you!”

Jennifer welcomed the economy opening out again and said it was now time to reset, learn lessons, and focus minds on further increasing quality and making the skills system far easier for employers and learners to use and understand.

She said: “We need a fully integrated system encompassing apprenticeships and all classroom based technical qualifications. We plan to learn from the success of increasing quality in employer-led apprenticeships, by ensuring that technical qualifications at level 2 and 3, T Levels and Higher Technical Qualifications all meet the training needs specified by employers in a common set of occupational standards.”

Jennifer added the Institute will in future want the number of qualifications to follow employer demand. Opportunities for progression between different apprenticeships and qualifications will also be charted in easy-to-navigate occupational maps.

She also reflected on the need for more diversity across apprenticeships.

“Employers also tell us that they want a more diverse workforce. They know that reflecting the rich mix of gender and ethnic diversity we have in this country in their own workforce is good for business and the public sector organisations that serve us all,” Jennifer said.  “We also know from countless conversations with employers that their wish for diversity is still not reflected within the future skills pipeline of apprentices and tech qual students, so we need to dig into why this persists and correct it.”

Her speech stressed the importance of improving apprenticeship completion rates and getting better at predicting future skills needs for the economy. The Institute is working closely to this end with the Department for Education’s Future Skills Unit and, she said, is in a “great position to contribute insights and market intelligence from the thousands of employers we work with on apprenticeships, T Levels, and Higher Technical Qualifications”.

Jennifer closed her address to delegates with a positive message.

She said: “These are exciting times and I have never seen more goodwill and support from government and the public for apprenticeships and technical education. It’s time to reset, learn from adversity, and move forward together.”