How can we help employers create UK wide apprenticeships?

Skills devolution is now a fact of life and so it seems futile to try and argue against it.

Yet many of our biggest and best companies operate across the UK and naturally want to offer all of their staff the same apprenticeship opportunities and training, regardless of their location.

Apprenticeships themselves are about standardisation as well as qualification; job roles do not differ in different nations – Accounting in Scotland is not so different to Accounting in England…. 

But each year, ‘What is an apprenticeship’, ‘Who can be an apprentice’ and ‘How apprenticeships are funded’ - becomes more and more different across the UK.

And now that the National Occupational Standards (NOS) which formed the foundation of UK wide skills standards are no longer being followed, (in England at least), how do we help employer’s offer companywide programmes?

A common market but without regulatory alignment

Employers, providers and trade bodies are of course used to working around the intransigence of politicians and focusing on the practical needs of the workforce. However you cannot completely ignore the diverging rules and regulations, as they create very real barriers to harmonisation. 

At some point a HR director or other nominated ‘apprenticeship manager’ will have to present this to their people ‘Board’ or ‘Committee’, explaining why it’s all so complicated and presenting them with options.

This is the point at which there is a real danger a company disengages as it’s just too much hassle… and where we as training providers need to provide clear and workable options for them to consider.


SQA Conveyancing Qualifications

Options for offering all staff the same development opportunity   





“Each to their own”

Run different programmes in each nation (Hard devolution)

Use Scottish Apprenticeships for employees in Scotland, English Apprenticeships in England, etc, etc

Make the most of the local support and infrastructure in each location

Could mean running up to four schemes with differing content, funding  and eligibility criteria – i.e. not a national programme

“Majority rules “

Offer one programme for all staff (Soft devolution)

Deploy the most common or recognised apprenticeship across staff in all nations.

IE if 80% of staff are based in Wales then use the Welsh SASW Framework across the whole UK

Can be a genuine UK wide programme – harmonisation.

The majority of

learners could be ‘funded’

Cost to the employer. As only the apprentices in one ‘country’ will be funded.   

Suitability and recognition of ‘foreign’ quals i.e. will Scottish employees want Welsh Apprenticeship?

“Focus on the content not the label “

Try and build programmes around the core qualifications or the skills required for the job role

Use different apprenticeships in different locations - but use UK wide qualifications to provide a common underpinning

Although some elements will differ the core ‘Knowledge’ element / qualification will be the same

Not all versions of an apprenticeship use the same qualification / not all nations allow funding for qualifications!


None of these models are completely satisfactory as they either increase employer costs or prevent a truly harmonised approach. In particular barriers to entry (eligibility) are hard to explain to those staff who find themselves ‘outside’ of those who are fundable in any one nation but not in another.  

“You live on the wrong side of the bridge to be eligible” is a difficult message to give to a 26 year-old employee!

The divergence of national funding bodies (each of which is directed by politicians with a vested interest in creating differences) means employers who want a common skills policy for their workforce have to be prepared to work hard to achieve this.

A complex combination of adjustments, supplements and very careful use of language is needed to smooth out the differences, but this takes a lot of employer investment and understanding, as well as a lot of support from a provider prepared to be an ‘open’ partner, working with other providers in other nations and changing what they do across the UK.

It is also an area where supporting the employer to develop and deliver some of the programme themselves can bear fruit and a ‘dual-system’ where employers do their own on the job assessments and a provider delivers the core technical training can help smooth out cross country issues. 

Avoiding hard borders

Just as most employers wish to support all of their employees, most training providers wish to support all of their client’s employees, regardless of their location.

After all, the Apprenticeship levy is paid against all of your UK employees (even if you can only spend it in England) and Apprenticeship wage rates are also regulated on a UK wide basis.

I suspect that it is the UK wide nature of the Levy that is our best hope of a sensible long term solution, not least as it seems to rule out even more localised (City region) apprenticeship funding solutions.

This is one area where our representative bodies, STF (Scotland), AELP (England), NTFW (Wales) as well as the AoC (as a UK wide body) could perhaps play a more active role, as could employer representative bodies….  forcing politicians to think about UK PLC.

And of course one thing politicians have in common is the need to deliver on chest-beating, apprenticeship election promises:

  • Wales100,000 over 5 years
  • Scotland30,000 PA by 2020
  • England3,000,000 over 5 years
  • Northern Ireland - no known target (let me know if you find one, £1bn should get you something!)

Happy 2018!

Richard Marsh, Apprenticeship Partnership Director, Kaplan Financial UK

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