March 09 2018

The Apprenticeship Levy: one year on

David Williams

David Williams is the Director of Global Corporate Engagement at Middlesex University. At the close of National Apprenticeship Week 2018, he reflects on the recent developments within the world of apprenticeships, and identifies areas of best practice which can benefit both learners and businesses.

It’s now almost a year since large employers started paying the Apprenticeship Levy.  As we celebrate the successful apprentice programmes during National Apprenticeship Week (#NAW2018), the 5% Club recently published research that reveals the majority of parents want more alternatives to university for their children such as apprenticeships, with 80% stating there are not enough options. 77% agree that apprenticeships are given a much lower profile in society than university education. Only 20% of parents felt they had enough knowledge to advise on apprenticeships while 54% felt schools did not provide enough information.

The Apprenticeship Levy - One year on

This is difficult for a Government committed to addressing the skills gap and whose ambitions are a significant driver for the development of apprenticeships at all levels for the post-Brexit UK. The Government has pledged to create three million new apprenticeships in England by the end of the current parliament, including the new innovation on the block, the higher education-level Degree Apprenticeships. However, after nearly a year of Levy payments, numbers overall have fallen and some apprenticeship schemes have come under fire for not providing businesses or employees with the skills needed to succeed.

But there are a large number of well-organised, first-rate apprenticeships being run by businesses and there is a great deal of innovation that promises well for the future. These are at all levels, from the traditional Levels 2 and 3 to Degree and Postgraduate Apprenticeships at Level 7. The debate at the highest level is more around the title than the impact; senior employees may prefer an MBA or professional qualification than being ‘badged’ as an apprenticeship.

Overcoming challenges

One of the biggest challenges employers are facing is how to strategically include their Levy payments into meeting the needs of their business through robust Workforce Development planning to maximise their return. Additionally, the requirement that all Levy-qualifying training requires the employee to be released for off-the-job training across 20 per cent of their time is a barrier and a change from the historical delivery models. Most organisations that we have spoken to are trying to find ways to embrace the current situation and plan long-term to ensure organisational impact. This approach tends to lead to the upskilling of existing staff rather than recruiting new staff.

We would call the Government, along with the Institute for Apprenticeships, to make some subtle changes and give employers more ownership and control, letting them decide what percentage of off-the-job training best suits their needs on a sector-by-sector basis but particularly with the input of the Higher Education institutions. At the moment, the constraints are hindering staff development, and so, organisational productivity and the return on investment.

Employers working with professional bodies have formed Trailblazer groups to develop nationally recognised apprenticeship standards – succinct documents that define the knowledge, skills and behaviours for occupations and related high-level assessments.

Degree Apprenticeships at Middlesex

Middlesex University has a proud track record in higher level work-based learning and Higher Apprenticeships. We believe we offer the very best practice as our qualifications are designed to meet employer needs and are delivered flexibly in the workplace; these programmes are suitable for a company’s existing employees or for new apprentices. All assessment is around the workplace role, tailored to maximise the impact on the organisation and on an individual’s performance at work. Degree Apprenticeships are currently offered in management, leadership, construction and B2B sales, and there are others in development across public sector occupations.

There are many benefits to an employer undertaking an apprentice programme outside of utilising their Levy payment. Younger apprentices can offer new and skilled workers for the future and be developed to fully appreciate the culture of the organisation; and by upskilling staff through an apprenticeship programme, they may grow in loyalty and help increase retention rates. The new thinking and skills of staff can re-energise a company, offering new insights and innovation that can be applied to everyday work and responsibilities. This is the real legacy.

The time to act is now: talk to your preferred training provider and ask how they can support your workforce development and help promote best practices –  I have no doubt you will pleased with the options available.

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