On the scale of change, the latest round of reforms affecting the Apprenticeship sector are significant. Putting design and funding for Apprenticeships in the hands of employers should drive positive change. The levy is a financial driver to make more employers engage with Apprenticeships but once programmes start I am confident they will see the wider benefits apprentices bring to their organisations. Through Trailblazers employers are able to design Apprenticeship Standards which are right for their organisation, their sector and the economy as a whole.
There’s an ongoing debate in the sector as to whether the government’s three million Apprenticeship starts target is the right measure of success. It is clear to me that employer satisfaction with programmes and the impact Apprenticeships have on both productivity and people’s careers are the benefits which we should focus on. These are clearly more difficult to quantify than a starts target. Whether it is a number, or another target, what I do know is the latest round of reforms and policy changes are getting people, particularly employers, thinking and talking about Apprenticeships.
Here at learndirect, we’re having more conversations than ever before with employers about Apprenticeships, particularly the Apprenticeship levy. The levy is a topic for discussion on a daily basis, sitting as it does at the heart of the reforms of Apprenticeships across the UK. Estimated to raise around £3bn every year, the levy is going to put more money into supporting Apprenticeships than we’ve seen in recent years – and this has got to be a good thing.
However, the proverbial devil is in the detail. There are still so many unanswered questions about the levy and there’s a risk the growth and uptake of Apprenticeships slows whilst these are worked through. Our large employers are debating a range of issues and want to see the specific guidance now – so they can make sure they’re ready for the change when it comes.
What are they telling us they want?
Quite simply they want to be able to spend their levy on Apprenticeships that will have a positive impact on their organisations. Employers are concerned that many employees or new recruits that they want to train as apprentices may not be eligible due to prior learning in subjects not relevant to their current job. This will particularly restrict the volume of higher Apprenticeship starts.
They want to be able to use the Levy to fund Traineeships as a step into Apprenticeships and they are concerned that artificial financial caps on standards could impact on quality and therefore devalue Apprenticeship programmes. More practically they want to know how the digital voucher system is going to work and, for example, can they transfer vouchers to valued partners in their supply chains?
One of the more challenging and yet unanswered questions is what’s going to happen with the levy pot in devolved nations. There’s a need to make sure employers can develop and offer quality, consistent programmes, irrespective of location and sector within which they operate – and this is particularly true for those employers who operate across the UK as a whole.
Whatever happens, it is important that we don’t lose sight of what most employers really want – to give their staff and young people the chance to participate in high quality Apprenticeship programmes.
The government has made brave and bold policy choices which have the potential to make the UK Apprenticeship programme one of the very best in the world. We need to ensure we don’t add too many restrictions and lose the momentum we have gained. In short, let employers spend their levy on the right Apprenticeship and Traineeship programmes for their organisations.
Iain Salisbury is Chief Operating Officer for Apprenticeship & Employment Services at learndirect