The looming change of funding for apprentices raises questions for employers, providers and learners alike. Is this a carefully thought-out plan to increase the number of apprentices in line with Government targets or is it just another stab in the dark, with fingers crossed that it could be the change apprenticeships need?
From April 2017, the levy will be in place regardless of our concerns. It will be paid directly to HMRC by all employers with a pay bill of over £3 million. The rationale is that it will top up the apprenticeship money pot from the surplus of larger companies, rather than the regular tax payer – an unapologetically ideological move to reduce the dependency of apprenticeships on the public purse. Not all larger employers are delighted by this move. Moving down the scale to the smaller employers with whom I deal, their biggest concern is affording the payment. Many are already fighting for their economic lives. Working in an underprivileged area, apprenticeships are a vital part of the pipeline that brings employment in. Many of the learners have been failed by the schools system and an apprenticeship is their first chance of changing their lives for the better. As a social purpose educator, this is what matters the most to me.
With employers being asked to co-invest, this could herald a whole new ethical landscape. If employers are coughing up hard earned cash, they may want more security on their investment than they might assume a troubled young person will bring. My concern is that the poorest and most vulnerable learners may become even more at risk of dropping off the educational scale. And accessing the money isn’t easy. Many of my employers struggle with the technology side of things as it is, I’m not sure it is fair to be asking more of them, without perhaps investing in their digital resilience. My biggest fear is that the small companies with whom we have worked with for many years will simply say we cannot be bothered with the hassle and not bother with the apprentices at all.
It’s not all bad news. I do believe that the levy will help to drive up quality, as providers are going to have to be more open and transparent in the services they offer. This mitigates many of the challenges for me, because of the potential to assure quality throughout the apprenticeship field. We all want vocational apprenticeships to be held in as high esteem in the UK as they are in other parts of Europe. As time will prove, the levy will either be the key to success or the wedge that keeps the door firmly closed.