From education to employment

The 20%: Off-the-job learning is vexing apprentice employers

Jenny Catlin, Head of Projects, Capita Apprenticeships
After what has felt like the longest lead-in time ever, the apprenticeship levy has finally landed, with businesses able to access their Digital Apprenticeship Account and start spending their levy from 1 May.
Yet while the sector has been talking and preparing for it for over a year now, there is still a lack of awareness from businesses out there. A recent survey undertaken by the British Chambers of Commerce found that 39% of members either hadn’t heard of the levy or didn’t understand it.
Even for those who are ahead of the game and putting plans in place, there is still a great deal of confusion from business about the rules that define what they can or can’t use their levy to fund.
One of the rules that seems to be a cause of great consternation amongst both employers and providers, and is a recurring theme in all of our client conversations, is that 20% of learning must be undertaken “off-the-job” for each apprenticeship. This is an established model in certain industries where technical training is required for a specific role, for example in engineering or IT, where it is the norm for apprentices to be released for a day a week or a block of time either in a college or provider’s training facility.  That is not the case and may not even be viable for apprentices working in customer service, or retail for example. In those roles, there isn’t a huge need for time spent away from the desk or shop floor for learning – it takes place in the working environment. It also creates problems in lean business environments where there is a direct cost incurred by taking an employee away from their workstation for training for a large amount of time.
The rule is straightforward enough, but the implementation appears to be much more complicated. The intention is to ensure that real teaching and learning is placed firmly heart of the programme, and while that is absolutely right, applying a blanket 20% across all apprenticeships has the potential to become a proxy for quality; focusing on the quantity rather than the quality of the learning experience itself.
Amidst all the uncertainty, one thing that is for sure is that the ‘20% rule’ is not going away.
Our advice to clients is to be proactive and deal with it head on. We are working with them to factor in the 20% from the start.  A different mind-set needs to come into play too. Off the job learning does not have to fall into the pattern of one day a week, or even be physically away from the workplace, but could be an accumulation of chunks of learning throughout the programme.
Our Talent Coaches have a key role to play in helping their apprentices recognise when they have undertaken learning they might not have ordinarily recorded. Technology can play a part here too, tracking when apprentices have logged-on to their learning platform and the time they have spent researching topics for example, as well as being able to easily record and upload evidence and information that have formed part of an informal but relevant learning experience.
No doubt further guidance will be published by the Skills Funding Agency as the levy becomes reality, and as businesses and providers work together to embed the off the job learning into delivery, we will start to see best practise emerge.  Whether the rule will affect business’ appetite to continue with apprenticeships in roles where it seems unlikely they can comply, or effect a culture change remains to be seen.
Jenny Catlin, Head of Projects, Capita Apprenticeships

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