Adrian Anderson, Chief Executive, University Vocational Awards Council (UVAC)

... No, just an ill judged and ill informed report from the EDSK

One of UVAC’s last tasks before the Christmas break was to contribute to research from our American partners on Degree Apprenticeship.

Over the last 18 months, UVAC, and our university members, have contributed to a range of international studies on the Apprenticeship reforms in general, and Degree Apprenticeship in particular.

Our international competitors see what England is doing with Apprenticeship as highly innovative and a policy that could make a major impact on productivity and social mobility.

To read the EDSK’s Runaway Training report as a first task following the Christmas break was a depressing reminder that some still hold the old fashioned notion that Apprenticeships are just about level 3 occupational roles.

Blinkered and backward looking

Let me be honest, the EDSK report Runaway Training is not just depressing, but also a blinkered and backward looking view of Apprenticeship.

 To describe Apprenticeships developed by employers, through a rigorous Trailblazer process and approved by the IfATE as ‘fake apprenticeships’ is, let me be frank, outrageous.

Is EDSK really saying that employers, often working with PSRBs (Professional and Statutory Regulatory Bodies), under the auspices of the IfATE, are developing and then using ‘fake’ Apprenticeships?

Is the Digital Technology Solutions Professional Degree Apprenticeship, developed and used by some of the world’s leading tech companies, a ‘fake Apprenticeship’?

Does the EDSK know better than leading companies in the tech sector?

Are Police Chief Constables really investing in ‘fake Apprenticeships’ when they spend THEIR levy on Police Constable Degree Apprenticeships or Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeships?

Do EDSK really believe public money is wasted when police forces use their levy payments to train the new police constables the public and Government see as essential?

Raising skill levels and productivity

The authors of Runaway Training give little consideration to the wider purpose of the Apprenticeship levy, the rationale for the Apprenticeship reforms, or indeed the skills needs of the UK economy.

The Apprenticeship levy was introduced because employers in England were under-investing in the training and development of their new and existing employees. This lack of investment in training was and is a principle reason for the UK’s productivity gap.

Through the Trailblazer process employers have developed, under the auspices of the IfATE, the Apprenticeships at levels 2 to 7 which their sectors need. Through the levy, employers can choose to invest in the Apprenticeships approved by the IfATE which their businesses need – after all, employers not organisations such as the EDSK, are in the best place to know the skills needs of their businesses.

Higher and Degree Apprenticeships have expanded because they are needed by employers in order to raise skill levels and productivity – the primary purpose of Apprenticeship.

A pretty sensible approach – many key employers seem to think so, as do our international competitors.

Simply bizarre recommendations

Some of EDSK’s recommendations are simply bizarre. Why, for example, does the EDSK recommend that ‘Apprenticeship’ should only be used for level 3 (equivalent to A level) roles? If Apprenticeship is about productivity and skills gaps and shortages, this makes absolutely no economic sense.

In the public sector, where big Apprenticeship levy payers dominate, many of the key occupations employers need to focus on are at higher levels, police constables, associate and registered nurses and social workers.

It may have escaped EDSK’s notice but one of the key priorities in the Government’s Industrial Strategy is the need to improve management skills. So why the criticism of Management Apprenticeships if Apprenticeship is about productivity?

EDSK’s recommendation that Bachelors degrees that have been labelled as ‘Apprenticeships’ should be excluded from the levy demonstrates a total lack of understanding of the role of degrees in the development and accreditation of professional competence.

In many cases, registered nursing being a good example, a degree is needed to accredit professional competence. Registered nursing is a degree programme and could not simply be renamed as ‘technical and professional training’.

Could EDSK also explain to the Secretary of State for Health and NHS Trust Chief Executives or the Home Secretary and Police Chief Constables, why they believe Apprenticeships at levels 4 to 7 (e.g. nurse associate, registered nurse and police constable apprenticeships) should, in addition to being renamed and redefined, have their funding substantially reduced?

Public sector training

The financial modelling contained in the report can at best be described as fundamentally flawed. The report claims that removing all Bachelors and Masters programmes from the levy will ‘save’ £550,453,000. What the authors fail to grasp is that the big payers of the Apprenticeship levy are public sector employers.

So does EDSK really believe that preventing the police, local authorities and NHS Trusts from spending their levy payments on training police constables, social workers and registered nurses through Degree Apprenticeships is a real saving of money?

Perhaps EDSK could explain to Ministers and the general public why they believe levy funds paid by the public sector should be used to provide free Apprenticeships at level 3 for small private businesses, rather than fund Apprenticeships for police constables, social workers and registered nurses?

The Apprenticeship brand is already an aspirational choice

Perhaps the most depressing claim in the report is, that if Government wants Apprenticeship to be taken seriously by young people, parents and teachers it should scrap so called ‘fake Apprenticeships’. Having exhibited at this year’s WorldSkills UK Live at the NEC I can tell EDSK that young people, parents and teachers do take Higher and Degree Apprenticeship very seriously.

Higher and Degree Apprenticeships are helping to transform the Apprenticeship brand as an aspirational choice. Higher and Degree Apprenticeship is creating new work based progression routes to technical and professional occupations.

We have potentially ended the academic and vocational divide. A Degree Apprenticeship is the best of both worlds – a degree and a job / apprenticeship. Young people and their parents get it, even if EDSK doesn’t.

Of course there are challenges with the overspend of the Apprenticeship levy pot, but reactionary and ill judged reports of this type do little to inform the debate.

The Apprenticeship levy is not ‘descending into farce’ as EDSK claim. Instead the Apprenticeship reforms and Apprenticeship levy will increasingly deliver on the twin objectives of raising productivity and enhancing opportunities for social mobility.

Adrian Anderson, Chief ExecutiveUniversity Vocational Awards Council (UVAC) 

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