Apprenticeships in the press – the concerns
Coverage has started circulating recently, via publications such as The Times and Telegraph, concerning the quality of apprenticeships following the reforms and introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy.
The main areas of concern seem to be:
‘Apprenticeship enrolments are down by 26.5%’ according to the latest government statistics.
Critics have been quick to blame the government for a slump in apprenticeship take-up for this academic year. This is unfortunate but it’s important to remember that there have just been huge reforms to the apprenticeship system and it’s going to take some time for the industry to catch up. New courses have been introduced, along with a number of new training providers so naturally it’s going to take some time for the dust to settle.
The biggest change is the funding, much of which now comes from the Apprenticeship Levy, a 0.5% payroll levy for larger employers. Unfortunately, there’s quite a lot of confusion around the Levy and many employers either don’t intend to use their levy and write it off as a tax, or haven’t yet decided how to spend it. With a growing number of resources available, hopefully apprenticeship enrolments will be soon be back on track.
‘Employers are using the levy to train existing staff instead of young people’.
Since the introduction of the new apprenticeship reforms, its critics have been vocal about concerns of the training being used to upskill existing staff rather than take on new employees. In this case, it seems the rebadging of apprenticeships is the core issue. While apprenticeships have traditionally been associated with young school-leavers, they can now be delivered to employees new and existing of any age, as long as they don’t already possess the skills being taught.
While this means that the new apprenticeships might not create the level of new jobs they would if they were restricted to young learners, it does mean that businesses will be able to invest in their existing staff. Providing staff with training has been shown to boost productivity and employee engagement, leading to a happier, more productive staff. With the caveat that they cannot already possess the skillset or equivalent qualifications, it’s undoubtedly upskilling the UK workforce. This will also help the learners to progress in their careers, leaving further opportunities open for new employees. It might not be the instant boost to the job market it would have been with an age limit but it can’t be argued that it isn’t a positive set of reforms.
Surely existing staff who might not have had access to formal training before also deserve the opportunity to gain an apprenticeship? Let’s not forget that the benefits of these reforms are threefold; giving opportunities to employers, young people AND the existing workforce.
‘Ofsted doesn’t have the resource to inspect all the new apprenticeship training providers.’
Ofsted is the government body tasked with inspecting education providers such as schools and colleges to ensure they meet national standards. For formal education settings such as schools, this is a measure to guarantee that all children and young people are receiving the accepted standard of UK education. Beyond their Ofsted inspection, the only checks made of state schools are from their Local Council.
The case of apprenticeship providers is a little different, especially in light of the changes to apprenticeship delivery. Now that a number of private providers have been approved to deliver apprenticeship training, the system has had to adjust. For a private provider, the process of being approved to deliver apprenticeship training has been extremely stringent. To be on the Register of Apprenticeship Training Providers, companies have had meet a huge number of standards and criteria to comply with government requirements.
The new apprenticeship courses themselves have also been subject to a different process. Whereas before a curriculum would have been developed, much like any education delivered in an academic setting, the new apprenticeship standards have been designed and developed by trailblazer groups of employers and professional bodies. The final assessment of apprentices is also made by a third party ‘Endpoint Assessor’ who has also been approved by the government.
Finally, let’s not forget that employers will be paying for this training (either through their apprenticeship levy or a 10% co-investment), so providers are always going to be held to account by their customers.
So what are the positives?
76% of employers we surveyed feel positive about the Apprenticeship reforms.
- Employers can receive 90% government funding for any apprenticeships in addition to those paid for by their levy fund (if they have one).
- Learners can be of any age, giving both young people and the existing UK workforce access to a host of new training opportunities.
- Those developing the new apprenticeship standards are employers and industry bodies, making the new courses more relevant to the workplace.
- Training is more flexible than ever, consisting of 80% ‘on the job’ learning, which means it’s tailored to fit the actual working environment of the learner.