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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.

Find out more about apprenticeships at MDX

Learn more about business and partnerships at MDX


Middlesex: a pioneer of degree apprenticeships

Dr Darryll Bravenboer, Director of Apprenticeships and SkillsDarryll Bravenboer, Director of Apprenticeships and Skills at Middlesex University, discusses the significance of degree apprenticeships and the need for collaboration to realise their full potential.

Higher and degree apprenticeships have massive transformational potential. They open up opportunities for people from low income and disadvantaged backgrounds to enter professional careers, as they can obtain the same university qualifications as traditional graduates while gaining invaluable on-the-job experience. The advanced upskilling they offer to employers means that degree apprenticeships help to drive the restructuring of job roles required to maximise UK economic productivity. As the government aims for three million apprenticeship starts by 2020 and its Apprenticeship Levy on employers is forecast to raise £2.8 billion by 2020, degree apprenticeships should be a major feature of the landscape.

National Apprenticeships Week 2018

Developing skilled workers

Middlesex University, one of only two universities to be awarded higher apprenticeship development project funding in 2011, is hugely excited to be involved in this agenda. The University currently offers a very popular degree apprenticeship programme in construction, in areas such as Construction Site Management, Quantity Surveying and Commercial Management, with big companies such as Vinci and Interserve. The University has been working with employers to establish business to business (B2B) sales as a profession for the first time in the UK, and is working in collaboration with a range of public sector organisations to develop and deliver degree apprenticeships for teachers, nurses, social workers and police constables, planned from September this year. This will play a key role in embedding apprenticeships in the public sector and is just one of the ways in which Middlesex University provides our public services with skilled workers.

There is also huge demand from employers across industry sectors for degree apprenticeships in the areas of digital and management, particularly in London. Middlesex has a longstanding partnership with the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) as an accredited CMI Centre and is a major provider of higher-level skills for the digital sector. This means that the University is very well placed to meet the management and digital needs of employers both nationally and regionally.

Collective success

Collaboration between employers, HE providers with degree awarding powers and professional associations has boosted the quality of degree apprenticeships. In the case of B2B Sales, a Trailblazer Group – chaired by Royal Mail and facilitated by the Association of Professional Sales, drawing together employers and three universities (including Middlesex) as members – developed a degree apprenticeship which constitutes B2B Sales as a full profession for the first time. This mark of recognition provides career progression opportunities for thousands of people. Moreover, a collaborative approach to working means that universities, as the providers, have been able to design a degree apprenticeship programme from first principles which aligns with employers’ workforce development needs as well as both professional and academic standards. The added value of this alignment provides evidence of the quality of this apprenticeship.

Surmounting challenges

We stand at the threshold of once-in-a-generation social change, and one of the best opportunities we will have to move beyond the unhelpful ‘academic/vocational’ dichotomy to establish a model of higher education that integrates work and learning, opens doors to a professional career and cracks Britain’s productivity weakness. Universities have a central role to play in delivering higher level skills and for this to happen, the roll out of degree apprenticeships needs to be expedited. A key challenge is the relationship between higher education sector and the Institute for Apprenticeships (IfA), the body set up to supervise the development of high-quality apprenticeships and advise on the amount of government funding employers can draw on.

To avoid delays and misunderstandings which have held up the approval of apprenticeship programmes, we need universities to be represented on the IfA’s Board and across the organisation to make sure the sector’s critical role in delivering higher-level skills is recognised. This will ensure that, for example, there is understanding of the credit and quality regime that underpins higher education, such as the independent external examiners used by all universities, in order to avoid duplicate systems being set up before apprenticeships are approved. On funding, for which the government has capped the maximum at £27,000 per apprentice, the IfA’s approach to the allocation of funding bands for degree apprenticeships seems to be inappropriately depressing the bands, which acts as a disincentive for providers delivering levy-compliant apprenticeships. If we are to achieve the Government’s target of three million apprenticeship starts by 2020 and enhance social mobility and productivity, it is in the interests of employers, professional groups and providers to work together as effectively as possible. We need collaboration between all stakeholders to ensure degree apprenticeships are designed to meet employers’ needs and have the professional credibility that is conferred through the award of a degree.

While we wait for new apprenticeships standards to be approved by the IfA, Middlesex University is in a unique position to be able to offer degree apprenticeships in construction for which companies can maximise their levy spend. Apprentices will seamlessly transfer to the new standards once approved. Likewise, the 20 apprentices due to start on the new B2B Sales degree apprenticeship will begin their training using the Chartered Manager standard with an additional sales focus, and will transfer to B2B Sales following the approval of the funding band for this apprenticeship. We look forward to working alongside the IfA to help get these and other new standards in place so that we can all start to see the benefits of this ambitious and much-needed apprenticeships programme.

Learn more about degree apprenticeships at Middlesex University



Construction’s biggest challenge

Neville Webb, the Institute for Work Based Learning’s Director of Construction ProgrammesDuring National Apprenticeships Week, Director of Construction Programmes Neville Webb discusses how construction degree apprenticeships can help reinvigorate collaboration across the industry.

Apart from the obvious large scale challenges like a sluggish pipeline of government-funded projects, an overheating supply chain and a massive skills shortage there is one significant challenge which impacts on the very soul of the construction industry – collaboration.

In the 1970s, Britain’s construction industry suffered at the hands of a highly-unionised labour force and its direct response to an overall lack of empathy by management with the common worker.

Job protection strategies such as job demarcation were born out of fear of job losses and they placed a strangle hold around the construction site. It made the simplest of tasks a convoluted process involving more people and resources than were strictly necessary and prevented efficacious programming.

That was 40 years ago, with old fashioned work cultures on both sides stifling creativity and individualism. But fast forward into the 21st century and we’re facing a similar issue at professional level.

Management is stratified between those in similar roles doing the same kind of work and rarely crossing boundaries between disciplines or functionality. People are separated by the very bonds that tie them together, go into any large construction site and you’ll see it for yourself echoed in the welfare and accommodation arrangements billeting functional groups together rather than the work-face zone or outputs they share.

Education and training in the sector needs radical change. The industry needs to focus on a coherent strategy for collaborative team working at site management level.

The construction industry has always had a reputation as a hard, itinerant, dirty fingernail and very dangerous environment, where the ‘craic’ as some might put it, was strong.  Strong enough to counter the negatives and make the work almost bearable.

The erosion of collaboration threatens to overturn all we consider to be commensurate with smooth and efficient working. It’s one of the key attractions into the industry for many people – the unique site culture. And yet, paradoxically, this culture is being slowly eroded by the ever-increasing lamination of command and control management.

Tier upon tier of subcontractor layers together with columns of specialist professionals forming a matrix of communication confusion. Education and training in the sector needs a radical change.

The industry needs to focus on a coherent strategy for collaborative team working at site management level and a significant contribution to this is the ‘customs, practice and habits’ people bring to their role.

Degree apprenticeships

At Middlesex, we are developing a fully integrated Construction Management Degree Apprenticeship across the key site disciplines where collaborative learning is a fundamental part of the process.

It will help provide a more enriched learning experience and will contribute to a better understanding of how colleagues’ roles combine to create a successful project outcome.

This suite of construction management programmes has been designed to aid transformative change within the industry by acknowledging and promoting:

  • The gradual acceptance of the role of the ‘Construction Manager’ as a significant multi-faceted management role within construction organisations and now a recognised professional destination in its own right
  • The recognition of how the management of the construction process on any site or project can only be successfully achieved if a high level of collaboration between all the parties (particularly the professional team) is achieved
  • The adoption of BIM as a management tool requires a significant culture change to facilitate effective use
  • The deployment of Integrated Project Delivery to ensure a ‘one-team’ approach without unnecessary ‘man-marking’ where duplication and omissions in process are minimised.

Each of the key construction site management team leader roles has a Level 6 Degree Apprenticeship associated with it.

These apprenticeships lead to honours degree qualifications, are work-based and are designed to have an interdependent structure based on common and shared management themes within their specific disciplines.

That is, they all address the constructor’s ‘holy trinity’ of cost, quality and delivery plus other shared themes and they all address the needs of their personal construction businesses. The apprenticeships are also designed to enable apprentices to gain relevant professional body recognition.

An inexperienced practitioner can join the Level 4 Higher Apprenticeship programme and could complete at Technician level and gain a Certificate of Higher Education. Or alternatively, complete at Level 5 and gain a Diploma of Higher Education or go on to complete the Level 6 Degree Apprenticeship in any of the following fields:

  • Construction Site Management
  • Civil Engineering Site Management
  • Construction Quantity Surveyor
  • Building Services Engineering Site Management
  • Construction Design Management

Experienced practitioners with no formal qualifications but over five years’ experience in the role could join the Level 6 top-up degree as a Degree Apprentice or if self-sponsoring, as a mature student.

The new apprenticeship initiative has the potential to transform the construction sector. By developing fully rounded construction professionals that have the knowledge, skills, values and behaviours that the industry requires, we can shape the future of the physical environment we all live and work in for the better.

To discuss the options and how Construction management can apply to yourself email or telephone 02084115050. I will also be attending the MIPIM Convention from 13th-17th March 2017 and will be available for meetings.