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Does apprenticeship work for adults?

Researchers: Professor Alison Fuller | Professor Lorna Unwin ...

Project overview

This project examined government-supported apprenticeship in England, focussing on the experiences and perspectives of apprentices aged 25 and over and their employers. It also considered training, upskilling and reskilling of adult workers more generally.

The study consisted of a literature review and statistical mapping of government-supported apprenticeship in England, and case study research in five organisations. 


There is a latent demand from adults for training and qualifications (including in English, maths and ICT) to support the fulfilment of their career aspirations. Many respondents believe they have the expertise, experience and potential to make a productive contribution to their places of work and to the economy more generally. Yet the flexibility which government currently affords employers and training providers has led to a visible lack of consistency in the quality and substance of apprenticeships. Some apprentices experience little more than the accreditation of their existing knowledge and skills, with an absence of significant new learning, whilst others achieve new levels of occupational expertise and build a platform for further progression.

Recommendations for policy and practice

1. The term ‘Apprenticeship’ is being misused. Fresh thinking, involving employers, providers and trades unions is needed to develop appropriate forms of publicly funded training to meet adult employees’ demands for upskilling and retraining.

2. Government should review the current reliance on the achievement of qualifications as the measure that
training has occurred. Accrediting adults for existing skills is worthwhile, but should not be classed as an apprenticeship. Adults value qualifications when they provide access to new learning.

3. Employers and providers are working together to meet the needs and build on the potential of an ageing workforce. This best practice needs showcasing and using as the catalyst for new approaches.

4. Adults want to improve their maths, English and ICT skills. Employers, providers and trades unions should be supported by government to meet this demand by ensuring that all forms of publicly funded training include opportunities to improve and practise these skills in the workplace.

5. Training providers and trades unions should use the considerable potential they have to ensure that adult apprenticeships involve substantial training.

6. Government and other stakeholders should review the extent to which publicly funded apprenticeship should challenge gender occupational stereoptyping and lead to career progression for women and men.

Latest on this project


  • Professor Alison Fuller
    University College London
  • Professor Lorna Unwin
    University College London
  • Professor Pauline Leonard
    University of Southampton

  • Cheryl Lloyd
    Programme Head, Education
    Nuffield Foundation

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We aim to improve people’s lives by funding research that informs social policy, primarily in Education, Welfare and Justice. We also fund student programmes that give young people skills and confidence in science and research.

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