Jake Tween, Funding and Apprenticeships Manager, ILM

It’s hard to believe it’s been almost four months since the new apprenticeship standards launched, giving employers more power to shape training and development and help plug the burgeoning skills gap.

Since May, there has been an ongoing debate over the validity of the new levy; concern over whether it will really achieve its purported aims, even questions as to whether the government will stick with it. Overall, the arguments for its existence have muffled critics. But there is one aspect that repeatedly poses an issue to training providers and employers alike: mandatory off-the-job training.

The new rules require 20% of an apprentice’s time to be used for off-the-job training, whether they are new or existing employees. For many of our key partners this is proving a significant barrier to getting apprenticeships off the ground.

For some organisations, the idea of taking on an individual who will spend one day every week away from their day-job is unfeasible and simply unaffordable. It also poses questions around how this would be audited and controlled. There is a genuine fear amongst employers that they will inadvertently fail to run apprenticeships within the strict guidelines - and the 20% off-the-job training seems fertile ground for mistakes. 

However, at ILM we’ve been so absorbed in the new standards that we’re now very familiar with the spirit behind the 20% rule and are confident that it does not need to be an obstacle to developing the staff that organisations need. In fact, if businesses and apprentices understand why this policy was determined, and how it can be applied to their specific sector needs, it can be a distinct advantage.

Off-the-job does not mean irrelevant

“Off-the-job” simply means learning away from the apprentice’s normal day-to-day activities. The flexibility implied by the term is deliberate; the DFE rightly recognise that this is new territory and that it will mean different things different sectors.

As an industry, we have a duty to interpret the guidance so that it rings true with the idea that an apprenticeship is fundamentally about training to gain new – not just to develop existing – skills. This training can come in various forms, from teaching theory (lectures, role play, simulation exercises) and workshops to shadowing, events and industry visits and even assignments.

In reality, much of this training will already be in place. For example, mentoring is a key component of leadership and management apprenticeships, imparting core skills such as communication and teamwork in a typical working environment.

And its not code for out-of-office

Employers are repeatedly asking: How can we resource properly if employees are out of the office one day a week?

There is a perception that off-the-job is another way of saying unavailable or offsite. However, the DFE’s guidance to “think of the activity, not the location” is useful here; as in many cases all off-the-job training can be done in the office.

But there is significant evidence that all employees benefit hugely from getting away from their desks and learning elsewhere. Apprentices should be encouraged to spend time offsite, at college or a training centre, surrounded by peers and able to ask questions they may not feel comfortable broaching with their boss or colleagues. The more exposure to their wider industry and sector, the more rounded an apprentice will be.

Nonetheless, developing the habit of learning in the workplace is equally important. Online and distance learning helps apprentices familiarise themselves with the concept that work is a place to develop new skills and capabilities, and somewhere to readily see the relevance of what they learn to practical situations.

Shape your programme accordingly

The best part of the new apprenticeship standards is that employers have more control over what their training programmes look like - and these will be different for every organisation.

Whilst 20% off-the-job may sound like a substantial investment, what this looks like within the apprentice’s contract is flexible – from one day a week, to a block release or a little time each day. It’s down to employers to agree on the best structure both for both the apprentice and the business.

Writing a training programme into an apprentice’s contract makes it clear from the start how the off-the-job learning element will be organised, so that it doesn’t pose any problems.

By using tools such as the ILM assessment platform, employers can easily monitor and record that training.

…And learn to love the 20%

Whilst having formal, regulated training might initially feel disconcerting, it shouldn’t really be any different to the approach we take to upskilling employees.

The basis for a quality apprenticeship is a job with a formal training programme; but this theory should apply not just to apprentices, but to all staff. They are an opportunity to recognise rather than bemoan the value of training, and recognise that it is a necessary part of every employee’s journey.

By agreeing training programmes upfront and investing in staff throughout a business, learning and development activities become a natural part of everyone’s working lives. For example, by having a clear focus on developing core leadership skills, a business can be future-proofed with a pipeline of skilled, empowered and loyal leaders.

The changes around apprenticeships are something that every employer needs to tackle. But the more they do, the greater the value they will unlock.

Jake Tween, Funding and Apprenticeships Manager at ILM, the leading specialist provider of leadership qualifications in the UK

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