Richard Marsh, Apprenticeship partnership director, Kaplan

Quality over quantity

Listening carefully to government spokespersons, during National Apprenticeship Week and since; it seems to me that they are not really pushing for 3m starts anymore. It is only commentators (and committees) who keep citing this target.

Surely this has to be to good news, as measuring success through volume alone was a too superficial measure applied to a complex area.

The focus is now very much on quality with ‘12 months plus’ being joined by ‘20% off the job’ and ‘independent End Point Assessment’ as the much quoted cornerstones of the new quality model.

These are useful yardsticks of course but an apprenticeship can be 366 days long, 50% off the job and still be poor quality. And this is where the new role of employers comes in, as they will be joining Oftsed and the (E)SFA and IFA in judging what is and isn’t good quality, and importantly voting with their business.

Considerate application of the enhanced rules and active consumer choice should eliminate the chancers and any poor quality provision – but the creation of really meaningful, high quality programmes also requires something thing that this sector has been short of – substantial, long term, well targeted, investment.

hourglassSpeculate to accumulate

And while a more nuanced approach to policy is welcome, there does still need to be a certain momentum in order to make things work; a critical mass that carries with it the majority and provides the confidence needed for emotional and financial investment.

At the moment we have maybe 1% of all Apprentices on new standards – and an awful lot more sand in the top part of the hour glass than in the bottom.

Increasing Capacity and capability requires investment.

Investment will only come with some level of certainty.

Until we all have a better idea of;

  • Which standards will work and be popular
  • how many graduates and employees will be interested in apprenticeships
  • how many Levy employers have activated their AS systems and
  • how much of the SME allocation providers have (£440m / 1,000+ = not much!)

… it is hard to convince boards and backers to make much investment.

And without investment, progress is slow and we may well see more providers’ struggling before the dust settles.

Foreword planning in an uncertain world

In a new ‘free skills market’ that is without relevant precedence it is hard to know how to plan, but without some forward planning we will never get things off the ground.

This is both a macro and a micro issue as we don’t know how much demand there is or where it will surface. Thus there will be ‘winners and losers’ and government will be charged with adjusting the levers if the wins or loses appear to be too great.

For example London and the South East are traditionally underrepresented in Apprenticeships but as funding is now linked to earnings (via the levy) will the centre of apprenticeship gravity move southwards to reflect the higher wages and levy payments of the South…ie if the S.E. pays 40% of the levy will they expect more than the 20% of apprenticeships they currently have?

And on a smaller scale how long it will take for any given new ‘apprenticeship employer’ to mobilise into an ‘employer of apprentices’ and change recruitment and training patterns that may have been in place for years.

The answer of course is for us to get close, really close; for employers and providers to develop joint strategies and then to be prepared to adapt and change them every week as we navigate the evolving landscape.

And for us to share the risks, share the investment and ultimately share the benefits.

Richard Marsh, Apprenticeship partnership director, Kaplan

When an idea reaches critical mass there is no stopping the shift its presence will induce.

Marianne Williamson

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