From education to employment

Change to off-the-job requirement removes barrier to apprenticeships

Kerry Linley, STEM ambassador and CEO of Rubitek

Off-the-job training is a vital requirement of any apprenticeship, so why has it proven so problematic that it is now set to be changed?

The training is delivered by a training provider during your apprentice’s normal working hours and is, says the Government, designed ‘to teach your learner the knowledge, skills and behaviours set out in the apprenticeship standard so they can achieve occupational competence’.

The aim has always been that activities such as mentoring, industry visits, lectures and assignments give the learner a more rounded education as they embark on a new career.

Today’s ‘off-the-job’ system, however, just hasn’t suited many employers and their apprentices.

The more hours the apprentice worked, the more they spent in training that wasn’t part of their day-to-day role. Introduced in 2017, the 20 per cent rule has required all apprentices to spend a fifth of their time off the job. It was a well-intentioned policy that tried to achieve fairness through proportionality, but it just hasn’t made sense. It simply doesn’t translate that more hours spent on the job means a greater amount of learning is required.

Why would an apprentice who works more hours need extra training to be considered competent in their role and the qualification they are working towards, than an apprentice with a shorter working week?  And surely one of the main benefits of an apprenticeship is the hands-on, practical experience gained whilst working. 

It is no surprise, then, that many employers say the 20 per cent rule has been the single biggest barrier to entry in recruiting apprentices, and this isn’t just about the impact on the learner; the policy has also hampered business. For apprentices working a 48 hour week, for example, it equates to more than 160 extra hours each year, which many employers view as lost working time.

The Off the Job Training Policy is Changing!

Well, from 01 August 2022, the 20 per cent off-the-job requirement for all apprenticeships will no longer apply.

It will be replaced by a baseline of six hours per week, irrespective of hours worked by the apprentice.  It means apprentices who work more than 30 hours per week can now spend less than 20% of their time doing off-the-job training.

The Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) has stated that this move, part of a package of changes to apprenticeships, ‘must not dilute the existing requirement – but provide the right level of training to every apprentice’. This shouldn’t be a problem for the training providers and employers I work with.

It is an eminently sensible rule change and I think it will lead to a rise in apprenticeship numbers. It will do so for these three reasons:

  1. Apprentices will be able to contribute more at a time when many businesses are still struggling to recover from the impact of the pandemic
  2. It levels the playing field, meaning all apprentices will be required to engage in the same number of off the job hours, and are not penalised whether they work 30 hours a week, or 48 hours a week
  3. It will be much more easily administered without the need for complex and varied calculations which have been an administrative burden

Announcing the rule change, Minister for Skills Alex Burghart said he wanted to ‘focus on making the system as simple and user-friendly as possible, reducing bureaucratic burdens on employers and providers and giving apprentices the best possible experience’.

There is still much to do to improve apprenticeship outcomes in the UK, but I believe the adjustment to the off-the-job requirement is a step in the right direction.

By Kerry Linley, CEO of Rubitek

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