From education to employment

Employer Providers – is it the way forward?

Charlotte Bosworth, Managing Director Innovate Awarding

The Register of Apprenticeship Providers (RoATP) has seen an increase in employers putting themselves forward to become employer providers, and it is likely this will increase when the new register entrants are shared in January. So, firstly, why would an employer wish to become a training provider? There are many reasons why employers may be considering applying for employer-provider status, whereby the employer delivers apprenticeship training directly to their employees rather than outsourcing to an external training provider:

  • Maintain control
  • Potentially lower costs
  • Train within your business’s culture and ethos
  • More 16-18 incentive payments (employer-providers are entitled to receive both the employer and provider payments)

Although this all sounds straightforward on the surface, the new rules and regulations that govern apprenticeships as part of the apprenticeship reforms offer some food for thought. To become an employer-provider, employers must apply to the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) to be included on the RoATP. This will include due diligence checks on your organisation and directors, financial checks, and an assessment of your organisation’s capability to deliver high quality apprenticeship training.

The new register will open four times a year for new applications. Providers are expected to reapply every twelve months if they want to maintain their registration.

Upon registration, it is important that employer-providers are well versed in their responsibilities to learners. From a delivery perspective, for example, apprenticeships are required to last a minimum of twelve months and comprise of at least 20% off-the-job training (learning that takes place outside of an apprentice’s normal day-to-day working environment and contributes towards achieving their apprenticeship). Employer-providers will be responsible for designing and delivering their own ‘off-the-job’ apprentice training – which the government has stipulated must be at least 20% of an apprentice’s time – as part of reforms that aim to ensure a quality learning experience. While this is an excellent opportunity for employers, the guidance around 20% off-the-job training remains rather convoluted. The key takeaway, however, is that delivery will require robust evidence gathering and reporting procedures.

In addition, English and maths are high on the agenda in developing learners’ skills for employability, progress and promotion. Regardless of the level of apprenticeship undertaken, apprentices will be required to make reasonable progress towards achieving a Level 2 in these subjects (equivalent to a GCSE at Grade C or above in the old system, or Grades 9-4 in the new system). For example, apprentices who have achieved their Level 1 will be expected to work towards their Level 2, though not necessarily pass it before entering the gateway to End-point Assessment (EPA). This is all well and good for people with an academic learning, but what do employers do with those apprentices who didn’t take the academic route for a reason? We should not underestimate the challenges in getting someone from a Grade D to C and the tuition required in attempting to achieve this.

And then there’s the small matter of regulation. Apprenticeship training delivery will be closely monitored by Ofsted. Paul Joyce, Ofsted’s Deputy Director of Further Education and Skills, has reiterated that new employer-providers will be inspected within three years, and Ofsted may carry out monitoring or support and challenge visits prior to a full inspection to assess risk. It is understandable that employers planning to register themselves as providers will be goal-setting as part of their overarching people strategies. Building Ofsted results into these plans will benefit from a longer-term view, as it is less common that providers with 2,000 plus learners achieve Grade I status. Experience of the process and allowing time for the apprenticeship programme to be embedded are critical to success.

When it comes to funding, providers have a social and contractual responsibility to ensure that any taxpayers’ money is being used effectively – for example when levy funds have been depleted and government contributes 90% of total training funds for any additional apprenticeships – and is compliant with government regulations. The ESFA will regulate all funded apprenticeships and ensure that all apprentices are eligible for funding.

Another fundamental change to apprenticeships is the introduction of EPAs. Where previously an apprentice’s work was evidenced and evaluated throughout the duration of the programme, skills and knowledge will now be assessed at the end of the delivery programme through a range of different testing methods. Examples of these include: multiple choice questions; practical observations; and professional discussions. This will require a different approach to teaching the apprenticeship programme, and ensuring that your apprentices are adequately prepared for the content and various testing methods.

Becoming a provider should only be considered if a company is confident that they can provide quality training that is fully compliant. Negative outcomes of an apprenticeship programme that are then published in the public domain could have a significant impact on brand reputation.

There is no doubt that there is an awful lot involved in creating a successful apprenticeship programme, so is becoming an employer-provider the right course to take?

Charlotte Bosworth, Managing Director, Innovate Awarding

About Charlotte: Managing Director of Innovate Awarding, a regulated Awarding Organisation with a focus on Apprenticeships. Charlotte’s career within Education commenced in 1996 with RSA Examinations Board and she has vast experience in curriculum, assessment and qualification design.  Charlotte has spent much of her career working in partnership with thought leaders in education to influence curriculum delivery and development, and to ensure best practice is assimilated into the development of qualifications, assessments and delivery.  Much of Charlotte’s work has included building relationships and interpreting the needs of employers.

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