Apprenticeships: Blazing A Trail

Apprenticeships are changing… Sallyann Baldry, an apprenticeships consultant, explains the background to the reforms and the significant changes to apprenticeships that are taking place. Not sure if it will affect you and your business? Read on…

Apprenticeships are changing; since May employers with an annual wage bill of more than £3m, paying the apprenticeship levy, have two years to spend it…  so, what do employers need to know ,and how can they invest in skills for the future benefit of their business and that of the sector?

By the end of the first decade of this century, apprenticeships were available in most industries. The waste, facilities management, environmental, energy and utilities industries all had apprenticeship frameworks. By 2011, there was an undercurrent of criticism emerging.

Employers said that they were not turning out people who were “work ready”; apprentices often had little exposure to real work experience and apprenticeships were not addressing future skills needs.

Leading waste sector companies are now paying 0.5 percent of their wage bill for all staff living in England. Each month the money is collected into a digital account and the company has two years in which to spend it.

In 2012, the Richard Review set out to put employers in the driving seat. The aim was simplification – to create a new English apprenticeship and a viable alternative to university. These new apprenticeships, known as “trailblazers”, focused on the behaviours, knowledge and skills employers wanted in their recruits. There was an emphasis on employability, addressing skills shortages and an ambition to raise productivity to enable “Britain plc” to compete on a global stage.

In October 2013, a few employer groups began to write the first trailblazer apprenticeships. A minimum of 10 employers were required to set up a group. In the waste and resources sector, for example, a Level 2 Apprenticeship for Waste Resources Operatives was developed by a group representing many of the key companies.

It was a requirement that each group appointed a chair that was part of that industry. This group formed to write the standards to create the workforce of tomorrow.

By 2015, the Government had produced the “2020 Vision for Apprenticeships” and set an ambitious target to recruit 3m of them. The headline figure is that the UK needs 5m new and replacement higher skills jobs by 2020, and the only way to achieve this is to significantly increase the incentive for companies to employ apprentices. The levy is that incentive.

In April 2017, the Institute for Apprenticeships was set up to oversee the quality of the new offerings. In the same month, the Government introduced a levy for employers with a wage bill of more than £3m, administered through HMRC PAYE.

Leading waste sector companies are now paying 0.5 percent of their wage bill for all staff living in England. Each month the money is collected into a digital account and the company has two years in which to spend it. The ways in which this can be spent is based on stringent eligibility criteria. It is estimated that the top 10 waste management companies, for example, will pay £6m each year into their levy accounts.

Distinctively Different

Trailblazer Apprenticeships are distinctively different to previous iterations. Notably, they include “end point assessment”, which is undertaken by an organisation that has not had any dealings with the apprentice during their training phase. This objective and independent assessment is important, for it will inspire greater confidence that an apprentice has mastered the requisite skills, knowledge and behaviours set out by employers in the standard.

For the first time, apprentices will be awarded a grade. A distinction candidate will be someone who goes above and beyond what may be expected of them in the end point assessment.

Apprenticeship training now has a minimum 12 months’ duration, with a requirement for 20 percent of that training to be “off-the-job”. In effect, this means an employer has their apprentice for four days a week, with the fifth day in training.

Controversially, Trailblazer Apprenticeships have no formal requirement for qualifications within them, although some employer groups have pressed the issue and retained them. In the waste sector, there remains the question of how the operator competence scheme may – or may not – be incorporated into the level four apprenticeship.

The achievement of English and Maths (preferably GCSEs) remains, although Functional Skills (a more contextualised form of English and Maths) is still appropriate.

It has been widely reported that apprentice numbers are down on the previous year, some calculating as much as a 61 percent drop in apprenticeship starts. However, Trailblazer Apprenticeships do present significant differences, such that employers will need some time to plan for and set up new schemes.

Help is at hand, however; the Governments’ website has masses of information and CIWM is also a source of guidance and practical advice.

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