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The Levy is a step forward, it’s time to take the next step

Stephen Evans, Chief Executive, Learning and Work Institute
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We have consistently highlighted the risks around unequal access and inconsistent quality that Reform’s report on the Apprenticeship Levy, “The Great Training Robbery: assessing the first year of the apprenticeship levy“, sets out. And, like them, we’ve argued that employer sign off for standards should be underpinned by an international quality benchmark: a two-tick system. It’s also clear that we need to do more to ensure fair access to apprenticeships, including for young people. 

The report is also correct that apprenticeships aren’t everything – we’ve consistently argued for other forms of learning and workforce development too. The challenge is to develop these routes, rather than cutting off current routes to progression without anything else in place.

One year into the Apprenticeship Levy is long enough to gain some insight into its effects, though too early to make a full judgment. But we acknowledge that the Levy is a genuinely bold policy and it’s something we support. The challenge now is to refine it so that it works for people and for employers.

We think the following will help achieve this:

Focus on outcomes

We’ve argued for annual data on outcomes, including the long-term earnings and employment of apprentices, to be published. These outcomes matter more than an arbitrary target measuring apprenticeship starts, otherwise we risk hitting (or missing) the target but missing the point.

Speaking of earnings, our survey showed one in four current or recent employers of apprentices doesn’t know the National Minimum Wage rules. We need to simplify the rules, ensure apprentices and employers know what they are, and then enforce them.

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Boost quality and target effort

We’ve argued the new standards should be benchmarked against the best in the world, as well as approved by employer groups. We’d also like to see a greater push (in policy, funding and delivery) for growth in apprenticeships for young people. 

We predicted the OBR’s recent downgrade in the amount the Levy will raise – and think that the apprenticeship budget and amount available for SMEs should be underpinned over the economic cycle.

Widen access

Everyone who can benefit from an apprenticeship should be able to access one. This needs reforms to funding, including our idea of an Apprentice Premium to draw together existing fragmented and complex funding streams. This needs to be alongside action on the ground to integrate support and engage employers, including focusing on clearer pathways to apprenticeships such as Traineeships.

Lifelong learning strategy

Apprenticeships are important, but there’s more to life than them. The absence of any other workforce development route encourages government and employers to shoehorn everything into being an apprenticeship. We need to develop other routes and this needs to be in the context of a lifelong learning strategy that sets out how the pieces of the jigsaw fit together.

We need a different approach to targets and outcome measures in the future, and Reform’s report is a welcome contribution to that debate. The Levy is a step forward, it’s time to take the next step.

Stephen Evans, Chief Executive, Learning and Work Institute

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