I read an article recently that seemed to scream, somewhat dramatically, ‘Is the Apprenticeship Levy killing apprenticeships?’
Almost 18 months on from the levy’s introduction, my immediate reaction was disappointment at reading yet another online piece set to regurgitate the same criticisms that have been around since consultation began.
Sure, the changes in apprenticeships have been huge when the whole funding system is considered alongside the reform from frameworks to standards via the Trailblazers. The allocation and management of funding has not pleased everyone, least of all the large funding contract holders under the old system who had the market ‘wrapped up’. It has brought into scope many employers who historically have not utilised apprenticeships and therefore have a multitude of questions as to how they can possibly gain any value.
Yet as a registered provider and reflecting on the conversations I have recently had with clients and contacts, if one looks to carefully explore the opportunities that have been created through the introduction of new standards, the levy and the ability to use apprenticeships to invest in the development of existing staff, then the possibilities can be massively beneficial for both employers and their employees.
Specialising in Leadership and Management Development we have been inspired and energised by how the new standards and the levy have allowed us to help our clients to address some long-standing and deep-rooted skills gaps in the workforce.
In the last UK CES Skills Survey results in 2015 where 91,000 employers were consulted, 59% said that leadership and management skills gaps were a key contributor to workforce under-productivity and the lack of innovation in new technologies and working practices. The proportion of UK businesses defined as ‘High Performing Businesses’ was estimated to be less than 12%, again influenced by these leadership skills gaps. Yet only one-third of those surveyed were making any investment at all in the development of their leaders and managers.
So why such optimism about the new world of apprenticeships?
Funding Changes, Employer Choice and Provider Quality
Changes to funding were never going to be universally popular. Providers who had previously held large funding contracts in the tens of millions would need to re-think their strategies. Meanwhile employers feared the possible administrative burden of placing funding under their control. However, in practice it has largely created increased choice of provider for employers and little if any additional ‘back office’ work. With control of their own ‘levy pot’ employers can now search for a provider who they believe will truly specialise in the apprenticeship standards and qualifications they wish to deliver and will provide a high-quality developmental experience for their apprentices. Provider selection is no longer confined to further education, vocational training providers and ‘bidding machines’ that had previously secured the funding through tender.
New specialist learning and qualifications providers who would not have previously had the resources or expertise to secure large government funding contracts have now been able to bring their years of expertise to the market, offering high quality professional qualifications wrapped within the new standards.
Whilst price is subject to negotiation, the funding bands seem to have created a more level playing field for providers vying for new contracts. The challenge has now switched to who can provide the best quality programme. Employers can work with providers to optimise the value and learner experience for the funding that they can receive for each learner. In our case we have been able to create a Level 3 Team Leader apprenticeship that places the emphasis firmly on the learner experience and development of sustainable management skills through a programme that carefully utilises every penny of the funding available to provide a wide range of engaging learning experiences and resources. Monthly workshops; a strong digital edge through an app; inspiring webinars; videos; a radio station and curated learning resources equating to an approximate 400 hours worth of learning time are provided throughout the 15 months (including EPA).
If only one third of employers were previously investing in their managers, then the introduction of the levy has provided good reason to now consider making the leap.
Time for Training
The required 20% off-the-job time for training is causing some employers concern.
During a recent briefing I attended for managers of staff who have expressed an interest in joining a forthcoming Team Leader programme one attendee asked “So, I have to release my people for one day every week to compete the programme? Not sure we can do that – we are already far too busy!”. I didn’t have to reply. One of his colleagues, who had just patiently listened to me explain the content of the programme addressed his protest. “But what if you don’t allow her to attend? Having seen the details of this programme she should be able to lead her team so much more effectively. That one day per week today will be more than worth the investment of time tomorrow!”
When considering management apprenticeships, the ability to lead and manage permeates so much of an individual’s responsibilities today. In addition to face-to-face learning, learning resources and coaching support, whenever a manager uses the learning acquired; is coached/mentored; conducts further research; attends relevant conferences or shadows other departments and can evidence how they have used this to plan for programme related activities, it can all count towards their off-the-job learning.
Young Learners and The Future Leadership Pipeline
Some observers are pouring scorn on the deflection of apprenticeship focus away from the under 19s, but we mustn’t forget that almost two thirds of organisations have admitted to leadership and management gaps among their existing employees, less than a third are addressing the much needed investment in them, and this has a direct detrimental impact on high performing UK business.
My conversations also regularly involve engaging with employers who are seeking to use apprenticeships to develop the younger people with leadership and management potential within their workforce, and those employers using apprenticeships to establish a senior/middle leadership talent pipeline. This suggests that the focus hasn’t entirely shifted from developing relatively new people in their organisations in exciting new and much needed management skills.
Like any system it’s not a completely perfect situation, nor are apprenticeships and the levy without their challenges, but it’s far more satisfying and productive to consider the wonderful things that can be achieved by exploiting and developing the opportunities that exist to make it work for you and your employees.
For more information on what our apprenticeships can visit our website at Apprenticeships
If you want to talk through the huge benefits that the levy can generate for your existing and aspiring managers, then please get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Shaun Lanceley is Director at Raise the Bar Ltd, an award-winning Leadership and Management development specialist provider working with over 700 thought leaders and experts in leadership and management.