Getting the Right Mix

Steve Nash | 05 Feb 2019

Getting the Right Mix

Steve Nash | 05 Feb 2019

In this blog:

The importance of cultivating a proportionate range of apprenticeship standards


It was a mere issue ago that I was commenting on the much publicised underspend of apprenticeship levy funds and how the chancellor might have been a little more generous with his support for both levy payers and non-levy payers alike. Then, just as the magazine was being published, the Institute for Apprenticeships (IFA) proclaimed it had crunched some numbers and was now forecasting huge overspends in levy funds. So what is going on?

Well, first of all let me state that it is widely believed that the IFA – or, at the very least, the individual from the IFA who presented the figures at a meeting in Exeter – simply got its sums wrong. However, the news did lead to some interesting debate around higher apprenticeships which have been something of an obsession for a string of skills ministers. Former skills minister Robert Halfon was actually quoted as saying that his three favourite words in the English language were degree-level apprenticeships! Thankfully the present incumbent, Anne Milton, takes a far more balanced and pragmatic view.

The concern has been that a disproportionate number of the new apprenticeship standards approved have been at degree level and above and attract the highest funding available. Yet quite a few have been applied to roles that aren’t actually creating new opportunities. For example, the big four accountancy firms have converted their trainee programmes to apprenticeships at the equivalent of Master’s level degree. You might rightfully expect such organisations to be pretty smart in the use of their levy funds but, with or without the levy, they are simply employing and training the same people they would have employed anyway – and consuming a considerable amount of the overall levy pot in the process. Furthermore, the beneficiaries are already well qualified with good employment prospects.

By comparison, apprenticeships at Levels 2 and 3 frequently offer paid vocational training, leading to long-term productive employment for a great many individuals who, for a variety of reasons, would never go on to higher education.

Whilst sense has since prevailed, there was initially a quite strongly held view that no apprenticeship standards should be approved below Level 3. This was flawed logic as there was absolutely no alternative plan for the many thousands of young people who have historically acquired skills and accessed careers and employment through Level 2 apprenticeships – an oversight which seems amazing for a country which is concerned about productivity.

Don’t misunderstand me, I am fully supportive of a balanced portfolio of apprenticeship standards being available, including degree-level apprenticeships. It makes sense for many young people to access their higher qualifications vocationally in the knowledge that they are pursuing a course that will lead to employment – something which cannot be said of a great many university degree courses.

As we continue to expand the number of apprenticeship standards for which the IMI is approved as an end-point assessment organisation (EPAO), we will certainly be including some management and leadership standards at the higher levels. I am, however, pleased that Anne Milton has brought some sense to proceedings and recognises the value of offering vocational training across the spectrum, specifically acknowledging the value of Level 2 and 3 programmes in creating skills and employment for those not pursuing higher education.

The debate about the accuracy of the forecasts on levy fund usage rumbles on, with the IFA being put under considerable pressure to provide more transparency as to the basis of its own predicted figures. In the meantime, it is good to see employers in our sector starting to recruit apprentices in numbers that are more reflective of the true demand for people and closer to the highest levels we saw prior to the introduction of the levy.

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