Guest blog: Crawford Knott, Hawk Training

The impact of the apprenticeship reforms must be reviewed to ensure we have a skills system which is fit for purpose

“October is here, Halloween is looming, it’ll be Bonfire Night before we know it, then Christmas!” – I think we’ve all heard, said or thought this or something similar over the past couple of weeks. Another key date is the end of April 2019 when employers who have unspent apprenticeship levy funds will also start to see them clawed back by Government. Even though the levy came into being 18 months ago, there are still a number of employers who do not fully understand it and see it as a ‘stealth tax’ or simply too complicated to take full advantage of.  At the recent Conservative Party conference in Birmingham, the Chancellor Philip Hammond hailed the “flexibility” of increasing the annual apprenticeship levy transfer facility from 10 to 25%. This will enable large levy-paying employers to share more of their annual funds with smaller organisations from April 2019. The fact that there is more funding available for apprenticeships is no doubt a good thing. However, we are still not seeing the increased uptake in apprenticeships which many anticipated and one wonders whether increasing the levy transfer facility will have any impact at all.

The sector continues to see tinkering with apprenticeship funding bands adding to further instability in an already new and evolving landscape. The rationale behind band changes is often not clear, one example is the proposed cut to the Level 5 management programme from £9k to £7k and at Level 3 from £5k to £4.5k when no employers have come out publicly in support of this. In the early years sector, Busy Bees quit the Institute for Apprenticeships trailblazer group last month as the 'process was not employer-led'.  One of the bones of contention is that the panel is believed to have tried to impose a GCSE requirement on apprenticeships.  There is no doubt at all that English and maths are fundamentally important but parachuting in academic qualifications which are not fit for purpose in vocational learning and lack practical application is a retrograde step.

In addition, there are currently almost 2000 providers listed on the Register of Apprenticeship Training Providers (RoATP) but 750 of them have yet to deliver a single learner start. This is also a source of concern when it is often the actions of unscrupulous providers which make the front pages of the press and risk tarnishing the apprenticeship brand whilst unsettling the thousands of apprentices, employers and industry staff who work extremely hard to make apprenticeships a success. As an established provider, Hawk has already worked closely with two employer providers to help them ensure quality and compliance in delivery of their own in-house programmes. In some cases, employers have received little advice as to the resource required to run an effective apprenticeship programme and sometimes underestimate the challenges. When employers work closely together with quality providers, we have the necessary ingredients to ensure a world-class skills system, but policy must support the sector to ensure we deliver the very best.

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