The recent Budget contained some good news for Apprenticeships, the announcement that levy paying employers can use 25% (up from 10%) of their levy funds to allocate to apprentices in their supply chain was warmly welcomed. A reduction in the rate of co-investment for non-levy paying employers from 10% down to 5% of the cost of apprenticeship training is a positive move too. But whether these 2 changes will be enough to help government to reach the 3 million starts target, or even return to the levels seen before the reforms and the introduction of the levy were remains unlikely.
So where are we now? The latest Apprenticeship Starts figures comparing the 2017/18 academic year to the previous year shows that there have been 25% fewer starts. Also in response to a recent FOI request from FE Week, it appears that under 14 % of levy funds have been drawn down in the first 18 months of the levy’s operation. So theoretically provided Levy paying employers have sufficient relevant standards and staff that need training, we could see the numbers soar over the coming months. Alongside this The Institute for Apprenticeships also gained an additional £5 million in the budget “to introduce new standards and update existing ones so that more courses can be offered” – so that should help keep up with employer demand for more Apprenticeship Standards.
Now onto Brexit – the implications for free movement of workers, seems to be clear in the short term. But despite the 585 page document and a set of transitional arrangements, both companies and individuals are already reconsidering their position in terms of recruitment and residency. Brexit however offers an opportunity as well as a threat, and ensuring that we have a world class skills system with programmes designed and delivered for our current and future labour market needs will help us to weather any storm.
So the funding is flowing into the system, new apprenticeship standards and assessment plans are being approved on a regular basis with 372 standards now approved for delivery. Training providers are now starting to offer the new standards, and businesses are recognising the benefits of Apprenticeships, especially to reduce workforce skills gaps and to improve productivity. But there are still a number of issues affecting the implementation of the Apprenticeship programme.
Have we hit the Breaking Point? There are still some Apprenticeship Standards with no approved End Point assessment organisation, there are still many Standards without a confirmed External Quality Assurance approach. There are unresolved discussions between Ofsted, QAA and the Office for Students around whose responsibility quality assurance is especially for L4 and 5 apprenticeships delivered in HEIs. The training provider register remains closed to new entrants, with some Standards having no –one delivering, and finally Ofsted’s initial monitoring visits judged ¼ of the providers they visited to be making ‘insufficient progress”. This is a worrying finding for a programme that asserts that quality is of primary importance!
Director of Policy
The Federation for Industry Sector Skills & Standards