At the AELP National Conference, it was confirmed by the AELP member survey and the response to a question on the day that the rules around the requirement to deliver at least 20% of working hours as off-the-job training (OTJT) for the duration of an apprenticeship remains one of the main barriers to take up by employers.
I also ran a couple of workshops on this topic during the conference and the story was the same.
Employers believe the rules are very restrictive and they believe that they literally need to release their apprentices from doing their jobs for 20% of their working time. This is far from the truth as there are a lot of activities that apprentices get involved in should be included their time in training off the job.
During the workshop discussions, it was clear that providers are getting more confident in interpreting these rules in a way that supports the apprentice and the employer. However, we need to develop more case studies and real examples of the type of activities that can be included in off-the-job training. As a result, AELP will be running a series of webinars and workshops to develop that level of understanding.
One of the reasons employers are so concerned about the issue of 20% OTJT is because the terminology is not helpful, and employers are not used to reading and interpreting funding rules. They constantly look for clear guidelines but that is not likely to happen.
Providers on the other hand are used to working with the flexibilities that funding rules sometimes allow. We need to work ever more closely with employers to give them the confidence that allows providers and employers to interpret the rules in a way that meets the rules but works for the apprentice and employer.
We also heard at the conference that apprentices appreciate the 20% OTJT rule because it reinforces the need to have the opportunity to learn the skills they need to complete the programme.
No one can argue with that but it also clear that we need to value the learning that goes on on-the-job. In fact, as Ofsted will always say, the best programmes combine on and off-the-job training.
There is a danger that this focus on a particular type of learning, i.e. OTJT, creates an unbalanced measurement of the effectiveness of training. Ofsted have already made it clear that their interest lies with the delivery of effective learning and progress and not the 20% rule itself.
The AELP webinars and workshops will reinforce the fact that the definition of off-the-job training is very flexible. It can happen at the apprentice’s workplace and workstation.
In fact, it can be any learning that is not normal working activities. For example, if an apprentice is asked to do a new task (even one that he would be expected to perform when fully trained) and he or she is given some instruction at the start of the activity, supervised through it and given feedback, then that activity can be included as OTJT.
When I ask employers, they do not believe this could be included in the 20%. We need to change that perception.
I also found in the workshops that even some providers still believe that inductions cannot be included in the tracking of OTJT. Like many activities if the learning is tracked and is part of the apprenticeship programme then it should be included.
Whilst AELP continues to discuss changes to the OTJT rules such as a different % by sector or by standard, we have to support providers and employers to ensure that the rules are applied in a flexible way so that it supports high quality delivery for apprentices.
Just as important as policy changes is the sensible application and audit of the rules by the ESFA. As providers build that confidence through sharing experiences, webinars and workshops we will be able to build the confidence in employers that we can manage the 20% OTJT requirements.
Stewart Segal is CEO of Aegis Management Services Ltd and an AELP board director