From education to employment

COVID-19 has taught us the power of collaboration – let’s use it to address apprenticeship funding

Annette Allmark, Head of Apprenticeships at BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT

Along with other #apprenticeship stakeholders, @BCS has responded to the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education’s (@IfATEched) second Apprenticeship Funding Band consultation which has just concluded.

We took the opportunity to make two main asks:

  1. Firstly, while officially out of scope for the consultation, for the government’s Education & Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) to hold joint discussions with IfATE, employers, apprenticeship training providers and end-point assessment organisations, to take a much more holistic approach to the funding band review and address the challenges of ineligible costs head-on.
  2. Secondly, to consider the risk of insufficient investment into apprenticeship training and assessment, especially at this point in time when we are faced with a national economic crisis. To put the supply chain at risk, and potentially hamper the quality of apprenticeships, will defeat all that we have set out to achieve to raise the quality and profile of apprenticeships since they were reformed.

Address the challenges of ineligible costs head-on

Our first request is based on repeated conversations with training organisations that are responsible for delivering a large extent of digital apprenticeship standards.

Most recently conversations have focussed on three serious concerns:

  1. The exclusion of operating overheads within the apprenticeship funding calculation.
  2. The fact that the independent research conducted by IFF to inform the funding review found that 22% of a providers’ delivery costs are currently ineligible for ESFA funding.
  3. The extent to which remaining costs should be covered by a 9% margin.

The Association of Education and Learning Provider’s response to the funding consultation paints a similar picture and therefore digital providers are not alone with these concerns.

We have experienced, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, some powerful and stimulating collaborations. A truly positive step forward would be to use the same approach right now in relation to funding.

We need to get to the core of this long-discussed issue and be brave enough to address the elephant in the room. Maybe this is too simplistic as otherwise it would have already been done – but then again maybe it is worth a try.

The risk of insufficient investment into apprenticeship training and assessment

This takes us to the second ask, and why it is important to BCS.

As a professional body, operating to a Royal Charter we work to make IT good for all of society. Our decision to operate as an apprenticeship end-point assessment organisation enabled us to support our mission and the development of IT and digital professionals through robust, quality-based assessment, undertaken by occupationally quality assured independent assessors. We have a commitment to maintaining the quality of skills attainment not only for our 60,000 community of professional members and those that are entering the profession but for the public at large.

We have seen how the digitalisation of public life during the COVID-19 pandemic presents an unprecedented opportunity to drive a more comprehensive digital agenda encompassing access, literacy, skills, and safety. Digital technology applied to research, development and innovation is central to the short, medium, and longer-term success of the government’s efforts to drive economic recovery and growth.

According to an Institute for Fiscal Studies report looking at the impact of the pandemic, 70% of businesses have increased or maintained digital transformation spend amid the Covid-19 pandemic, 52% of companies stating they will increase their spending on digital transformation.

The survey places construction as the most willing to increase digital transformation spend, with 75% of respondents in this sector saying they have plans to invest this year. Information technology (58%) and manufacturing (55%) companies closely follow. On the other end of the spectrum, the study found more caution in the energy and utilities at 37%, trailed by retail at 35%.

Digital transformation presents several challenges across sectors, much of which pivot around ensuring equality of access and opportunity to acquire digital skills and training: both for those delivering and consuming services in increasingly digital ways.

There is a need to invest in a bold digital skills agenda with apprenticeships at the heart of it, and to ensure there is a reliable and robust funding mechanism in place that will suitably support the infrastructure designed to deliver it.

Annette Allmark, Head of Apprenticeships at BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT

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