Richard Marsh

Urgent action needed to support our #Apprentices - Tomorrow’s workforce 

The No1 priority for everybody in this current crisis has to be protecting people’s health. Making all the work lifestyle changes required to keep people safe.

But those of us who are not medically trained also have a role in looking out for those who are in many ways also in our care. We need to protect Apprentices - tomorrow’s workforce - as best we can so that their careers are set back as little as possible.

There are several ways we might do this in the medium term and they will require flexibility, maturity and collaboration which I know this sector is capable of even if it’s not always on display.

Support for Apprentices

Apprentices can often be amongst the most vulnerable in society. Often just starting out as working adults; without the experience to handle extreme changes to their work environment.

In order to preserve the value of what they have achieved thus far we need to:

  1. Keep them in work
  2. Keep them in study
  3. Allow them to complete if they are ready

All whilst allowing for adjustments to their routines designed to keep them safe.

No measures should enable any training provider to earn more but if they keep Apprentice and Apprenticeships going then they have to be worth considering.

Keeping Apprentices in work

New Apprentices may not yet be productive and could be especially vulnerable in small businesses that get squeezed for cash-flow.

The current National Insurance break for younger Apprentices could be expanded or turned into a rebate that pays smaller companies to keep apprentices on.

The 20% off the job regulation could be temporarily relaxed – today I spoke to a health trust desperate to fully utilise their apprentices to help in the crisis - but scared off falling foul of the protected study time rules.

Our advice was that they should deploy them as needed and they agreed, but in theory they are breaking ‘the rules’ by suspending their study time. There is a ‘Break In Learning’ option but this has consequences for apprentices and their providers.

If we allowed apprentices to carry on in learning – doing whatever they can – providers could extend the duration of courses which would reduce their monthly income but might just keep them afloat and keep the apprentice in learning.

Even if they can 5% study time for 6 months and then go back to 20% that has to be better than the current all or nothing stop – start option.

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Once Apprentices stop learning for any considerable amount of time it is quite difficult to get them started again – and if we stop all income at all providers there may not be a course for them to come back to.

Redundancy

Even with extra support for employers some Apprentices will lose their jobs.

Currently they have 4 weeks to change employer – this could easily be extended to 3 or 6 months – and with apprentices allowed to keep studying in between jobs.

Apprentices made redundant with less than 6 months remaining of their programme can (in theory) already complete without an employer. However with most new apprenticeship Standards the progression from Gateway to EPA is impossible without a work-based project and so it isn’t really an option.

Competing Apprenticeship

It is likely that GCSE and A level students will be given 'alternative completions' in lieu of final exams - possibly Certificates will be issued based on 'Mock' results.

For Apprenticeships we could do something similar. This might take the form of the Apprentice’s ‘Gateway’ being allowed as a substitute for the Endpoint assessment for the rest of this Academic year, as long as they have completed the course satisfactorily and the employer believes they are now competent.

Perhaps with the EPAO given a role as overseer to check all elements of the standard have been met (this would also allow them to earn a fee too).

As well as completing Apprenticeships we need Apprentices to pass exams – not least their Functional Skills.

But to do Functional Skills you need invigilated exam conditions and these are proving almost impossible to find with so many learning centres being understandably closed.

Ofqual must support Awarding Bodies and EPAOs to allow remote/virtual exam conditions - especially for Functional Skills. Otherwise we will soon have a complete log jam of Apprentices.  

The Apprenticeship levy

If the validity of funds could be increased from 24 to 36 months. It would help employers catch up again post COVID.

There also be some flex on who you can spend Levy funding on, i.e. why not allow some money to be used for unemployed Apprentice support or UK nationals – not just English employees.

Support for training providers

Training providers will have many good ideas like this. But we are so heavily regulated now, I worry that we will not be doing all we can for fear of later punishment by ESFA Audit or Ofsted.

If there was a general message put out that:

  • as long as providers are acting in the learner’s best interests and have not found a way to increase earnings or ‘game the system’
  • as long as they can explain what they have done and why

Then we should be freed to do what we can save as many Apprenticeships as possible.

The consequences of doing nothing could be long lasting and damaging to both individuals and organisations.

Richard Marsh, Apprenticeship Director, Kaplan Financial

Richard has over 20 years experience in delivering excellence in apprenticeships and training.

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