Making provisions for the future framework of apprenticeships
On 2nd June 2014, Matthew Hancock, Minister for Enterprise and Skills gave a speech to the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) about their role in the new framework for apprenticeships. The speech offered plenty of food for thought and there were a number of pertinent points that are worth exploring further.
Much of the rhetoric around the reforming process of the UK skills and training market has placed a lot of emphasis on the employer, particularly through the Government’s ‘Trailblazers’ initiative. Until now it has been felt in some quarters that the provider was being somewhat overlooked in the whole process, but following the minister’s speech there can be no doubt of the provider’s future role to help address the low percentage of businesses employing apprentices.
At the start of his address, the minister summarised the progress that the government had made in reforming the structure training provision in the UK. In particular he confirmed that he was “putting rocket boosters” under employers through strengthening the Apprentice Ambassadors Network and creating sector-specific toolkits to help them select new candidates for their programmes.
Such news should be welcomed across UK industry, and it is encouraging to hear that the country is on track for “two million apprenticeship starts over this parliament” (five years). It wasn’t all good news, this impressive figure was balanced by the sobering news that only “10 per cent of businesses now employ an apprentice”, this means there are still 90 per cent that don’t. It’s clear that there is still a lot to do.
“You will be the salesforce for new apprenticeships” declared the minister, emphasising that providers will now have to make more effort to sell their services. To employers, this should not be seen as a bad thing as it brings much needed competition into the market, encouraging providers to keep up with sector demands and keep the tools and systems they use to develop and deliver apprenticeships razor sharp. It is a real opportunity for providers to showcase their specific talents to employers, helping to form long-term, integrated training partnerships across UK business and industry.
The new system will see employers setting apprenticeship standards according to their sector, this means that providers will have a much clearer vision going forward of the specific levels of attainment to be reached. This will help significantly to ensure that more sophisticated courses are designed which meet the specific needs of the employer. The minister also indicated that these new standards will be delivered across the board by 2017, and I am very excited to see what employers in my industry, hospitality, will come up with.
One of the other major advantages to providers is that the new system will cut out a large amount of the time and administration that is accrued from the current three-party system of employer, government and provider. I am particularly pleased about this decision to cut back on the large amount of red tape currently involved in developing, delivering and securing funding for apprenticeship programmes. It is especially important for the licensed trade where time wasted on reams of paperwork and government checks can incur detrimental financial costs.
Furthermore, the government’s commitment to taking a step back to let employers and providers get on with the process of delivering high quality apprenticeships will relieve some of the claustrophobia previous felt under the heavy fist of government intervention. That said, it is now up us to deliver the result in return for the new responsibility we now have and the trust that the Department of Business, Innovations and Skills has placed in our hands.
Finally, from an industry perspective, I am keen to see the government deliver on its promise to make the new system work for both large and small companies alike. Using licensed hospitality as an example, this would mean that the new framework would have to equally empathise with the needs and concerns of a small brewery as it would a giant pubco. It’s a very tall order and raises a lot of questions about how government would allocate funding fairly, including how they would means test which SME or large company qualifies for what sized slice of the funding cake. The danger is that large companies who can make massive pledges will get large hunks whilst small employers will be left with mere crumbs.
There is no doubt that the new system will be more sophisticated and I hope it will be more user-friendly as a result. When push comes to shove, providers need to start embracing the new framework, there’s no going back. We must start reaching out to employers to showcase to them the best solutions for the challenges they face when developing apprenticeship programmes and how we are best equipped to help them deliver on their commitments. It’s now a case of getting on board and helping to make this exciting new structure work.
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