For those of us who have been working in, or supporting work-based education, the latest reforms to apprenticeships come as no surprise. Over the past 30 years vocational paths have been subject to more revision, review and re-branding than any other area of training in England and Wales. Announcements on changes to apprenticeships can seem a little like “Groundhog Day” with successive Governments keen to place vocational skills’ development at the centre of policy.
Since former Chancellor Kenneth Clarke introduced Modern Apprenticeship in 1993, we have seen a number of new configurations, such as Young, Advanced, Technical, Higher, Pre-Apprenticeships, Traineeships and Apprenticeships for Adults, introduced as new pathways to address declining numbers, concerns around quality and to widen learner participation.
On May 1st 2017 the latest reforms for England and Wales come on stream with a new funding model. The Government’s aim is to create three million apprenticeship starts by 2020 across all sectors and add £1 billion to the funding pot.
What is an apprenticeship?
First things first, given all the changes over the past 30 years, what exactly is an apprenticeship? When I completed an apprenticeship, back in 1993, it was a job, a genuine job accompanied by a structured learning programme. To all intent and purposes this is still the case. An apprenticeship should, therefore, include an employment contract, salary, job role, and an assigned supervisor.
This allows apprentices to learn through practical experience, supported by formal/theory based learning. For me this meant day or block release to college, but it can be facilitated in a number of ways.
Students can now also access apprenticeships via Further Education Colleges, many of whom offer support in finding placements and in securing work for their students. So what’s new?
There are several key changes being introduced - here are four things as an employer that you need to know.
Under the new scheme which begins on 1st May, there will be broadly two types of apprenticeship employer. Levy Paying and Non-Levy Paying (or Co-investors).
Levy Payers will be UK businesses with a pay bill of £3 million or more and 250 plus employees. They will pay into the levy fund through HMRC at a rate of 0.5% of their pay bill. Employers will need to set up a digital account via the Digital Apprenticeship Service or D.A.S.
Levy Payers’ funds will appear in their digital account and can be accessed for apprentice training and assessment.
Apprenticeship Frameworks (which set out content and assessment) criteria are being phased out and replaced with Standards. The new Standards have been developed by employers and cover knowledge, skills and behaviour expected. Apprenticeship Frameworks did not require Endpoint Assessment but the new Standards do. The Endpoint Assessment is intended to be holistic and independent.
3. Grants for smaller enterprises
If an apprentice starts before 1st August 2017, employers (non-levy paying with fewer than 50 employees) may be able to claim the AGE Grant designed to encourage the employment of 16-24-year-olds. The employer will receive £1,500 for each eligible apprentice. This doesn't mean that those who are 24 years plus cannot become apprentices. There is no age restriction in place generally.
4. Co - investment
Companies who do not pay the levy will be asked to contribute to the cost of training an apprentice - this is called Co-investment. Also, if a company has 50 employees or fewer or if the company pays the levy but has insufficient funds in their account, they too can benefit from government support towards the cost of apprenticeship training, with the government paying 90% of the training costs.
What could this mean for the future of skills development?
The potential for an all sectors’ skills development fund could be a game changer for supporting aspiration. I believe these three key criteria are fundamental in ensuring the success of the new reforms:
The apprenticeship route can be the gateway to a new profession and a jumping-off point on a career journey. I would like to see increased opportunities for those seeking to continue their professional development via connected pathways and with mutual recognition between further and higher education programmes. If this can be achieved, the benefits for learners and industry, for improved diversity, inclusion and social mobility, could truly be leveraged.
The minimum duration of an apprenticeship programme will be 12 months and while this, in and of itself, does not preclude quality training, we must acknowledge that one of the challenges for apprenticeships is how they are seen by the public, employers and learners when compared to higher education.
The Learner Experience
This is possibly the least mentioned but the most important and challenging piece of the puzzle. As a former apprentice, I know how important it is for employers to get this right. Creating a culture of support for learning is fundamental. Far too often great plans and policies for staff development fail in implementation due to competing demands on resources, or just not making skills development a priority for the organisation, in a tangible way.
By ensuring these three issues are addressed the latest reforms on apprenticeships have the potential for a sea change in skills development.
Danna Walker Founder| Director of Built By Us (BBU)
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