Employers in England and Wales should provide apprentices with an ‘apprenticeship agreement’ as their contract of employment. These agreements strip away the inflexible protection afforded to apprentices under the old contract of apprenticeship system. In Scotland, apprentices are still engaged on contracts of apprenticeship and employers of apprentices in Scotland are still bound by the ‘old’ rules. Employers in Scotland cannot use apprenticeship agreements.
With an apprenticeship agreement, the focus of an apprenticeship is the work, and not the learning. The effect of this is that an employer in England and Wales can treat an apprentice just like all of their other employees in terms of disciplinary and capability procedures. Although it may seem to oppose the whole point of an apprenticeship – a scheme devised to take someone on at the start of their career and teach them a trade but also get practical experience in the workplace too – the realities of employment law mean that an apprentice can be dismissed for substandard performance even early on. Probationary periods can also be applied.
Where disciplinary offences are concerned, a couple of instances of lateness or a missed day at college could also, under an apprenticeship agreement, be a sound reason for dismissal in the early stages of employment. All policies and procedures, and sanctions upon discovering a breach of such, can be applied to an apprentice on an apprenticeship agreement.
An apprenticeship agreement must contain certain pieces of information to be deemed a valid agreement. These are:
- A statement of the skill/trade/occupation that the individual is receiving training in;
- Details of the relevant qualifying apprenticeship framework; and
- A statement to the effect that the Agreement is governed by the law of England and Wales.
Apprentices in Scotland must be treated differently. Their contracts of apprenticeship do not allow for the apprentice to be treated on a par with ‘normal’ employees and therefore normal disciplinary and capability procedures cannot be applied. The focus of the contract of apprenticeship is the learning and not the work. Therefore employers must be prepared to ‘put up’ with a lot more from apprentices engaged in this way, and must communicate with the learning provider should any problems arise.