From education to employment

The Apprenticeship hierarchy – Whose policy line is it anyway?

Richard Marsh, Apprenticeship Partnership Director, Kaplan Financial

The recent IFA publication Faster / Better included a useful update on which qualifications can be included in an apprenticeship and why.

In essence I think it is saying you cannot formally accredit on the job competence during the apprenticeship as this will happen at the end.

Thus reasserting the pre-eminence of the EPA as the point at which competence is certified.

Beneath the detail of that point, what it also highlights is the ongoing tension over who has ‘control’ in Apprenticeships and skills.

One of the few areas of consensus in UK skills policy for decades has been that we need an employer–led system or at least an employer responsive system and this has driven decades of policy.

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Providers were once told to ‘hide the wiring’ from employers – lest they be blinded by our bureaucracy – it was like some kind of FE card trick and didn’t really work very well.

But there was also a long list of initiatives and special funds ££ designed to open the door for employers and to give them some form of control or at least influence on the ‘sector’. (SSCS, NSAs, 14-19 Diplomas, TQS, EOP I & II etc etc ** ).

I am not sure that anyone thinks any of these initiatives had a lasting impact (even those of us who diligently worked on their implementation) although to be fair there was not really any clear idea as to what they were supposed to achieve.

But they did perhaps help set the scene for the bolder changes to come.

And more recently employers have been given several significant levers:

  • A leading role in setting local priorities through LEPS,
  • The chance to write Apprenticeship standards through Trailblazers
  • Ownership of Apprenticeship funding – via the levy (well footing the bill anyway)

Employer views on the success of these levers probably depends upon which sector you are in and how much is in left unspent in your levy account.  

But one area that is still very much a live debate is the role of qualifications in apprenticeships (and I suspect it will occur for T-levels too).

The antidote to Awarding Body games

Hopefully I am not alone in struggling to keep up with the subtle differences between qualifications that are classed as being ‘Mandatory’, ‘Licenses to practise’, ‘Prescribed’, ‘Vendor’ or even ‘Section 96?’.  (Perhaps FAB or Ofqual could provide a glossary?)

However, I do know that some of these are ‘good’ qualifications and some are ‘bad’ – at least when it comes to apprenticeship funding.

When discussing apprenticeship qualification options with employers it isn’t always easy to explain the rationale between good and bad qualifications and that all of this is due to them ‘being in charge’.

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If you ask employers what training they want – there is every chance the answer is “more of what we have always been buying” (or why would we have been buying it). However as this will not always neatly overlap with what Gov. might want them to buy, thus we get ‘tension’.

Of course as protector of the tax payer the Gov. does not want apprenticeships to act as conduit for bringing qualifications that used to be commercially funded into the government funded tent, as this raises the spectre of ‘deadweight’.  And Gov. and its proxies are also rightly charged with protecting the interest of the citizen – in this case the apprentice.  Especially when this is a younger person at a critical stage of their career.

So ‘allowing’ employers to control the system, whilst ensuring apprenticeships make the desired difference to social mobility and productivity is a real policy challenge – especially in an all-age all-level programme like ours.

Deadweight contagion is controlled in other countries by erecting Age or Academic level barriers – we have put our faith in a 20% barricade.

If this isn’t explained well or presented thoughtfully it can feels like a bit like ‘Government knows best’ and can lead to frustration.

T + A = C

If you look at HR / CIPD this is a great example of a real cross over product. It is both a new apprenticeship that is becoming highly sought after but it also has had a long and successful life as a well-known commercial product.  And so it exists in two distinct spheres.

This then introduces the situation where the same ‘product’ can be brought in two very different ways and for two very different prices (also see Degree apprenticeships….).

Thus we all spend a long time explaining how the Apprenticeship is different and more (and it is) than just any of the qualifications within.

I believe that the only really credible way to explain this is the educational argument that an apprenticeship is   Theory + Application = Competence. Whereas a qualification on its own only guarantees the T of that equation.  

And so Apprenticeship, as a dual-study method that ensures Theory is not only understood but also implemented which adds extra value for the employee and employer.

Certificating the hierarchy

I haven’t seen one of the new ESFA issued apprenticeship standard certificates yet – but I know there are some out there…

And so I wonder whose names and logos are on them.  If they are big enough we might all feature – like the credits at the end of a film – and if so I would list the actors in this order:

  • The learner
  • Their employer
  • The Professional body (if there is one)
  • Any awarding bodies (for allowed qualifications)
  • The training provider
  • The EPAO
  • The EPAO’s EQA
  • The IFA
  • The ESFA

To me this is probably the hierarchy of importance in Apprenticeships that we should all keep in mind.

Richard Marsh, Apprenticeship Partnership Director, Kaplan Financial

** Abbreviations 

SSC Sector Skills Councils

NSA National Skills Academies

TQS Training Quality Standard

EOP Employer Ownership Pilots

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