There are apprenticeship providers out there that are I believe trying to do the right thing but trying to do the right and it being the right thing are two different sides of the same coin. I applaud creativity and innovation, and I welcome businesses in these times re-designing to ensure survival and generation of revenue. The apprenticeship providers that are currently marketing apprenticeships to staff that have been furloughed need to take a step back and think about the wider picture – holistic thinking!

I want to raise a few questions and open up discussions surrounding this?

  1. The Furloughed member of staff may only be out on Furlough for up to 3 months, for years and years all I have heard from providers is how hard it is to reach the minimum 20% off-the-job requirements, it is easy to do OTJT whist at home on Furlough.
  1. But what about when the apprentice goes back to work? Are we saying then that the 20% OTJT will be easy to deliver across the majority of the programme delivery that is left?
  1. When the ‘apprentice’ goes back to work, and reality starts to sink back in and they now have their full-time job back, will they really want to carry on with the apprenticeship? 
  1. Will they drop out? Leaving you as the provider with retention issues for Ofsted and your success rates?
  2. Will the ‘apprentice’ want to build a portfolio, do functional skills and then do an End-Point Assessment, once reality has set back in? I doubt it.
  1. Under the Funding Rules “The signed apprenticeship agreement must be distributed to both signatories (employer and apprentice) and you must obtain a copy of this for the evidence pack, along with any revisions.”. 
  1. The employee will now be discussing an apprenticeship as part of their job (as it’s a minimum duration of 12 months) with their employer, at this point you could argue this will be in-breach of the Furlough rules as they are not to do any work activity whilst being Furloughed. 
  1. How as the provider are you going to build the curriculum intent with the employer, when we can’t meet with them or explore apprenticeships properly? This will affect Ofsted, as Ofsted under the EIF will ask how the curriculum was built with the employer. 
  1. Let’s also remember that if the ‘apprentice’ drops out within the 42 days they will not qualify for any apprenticeship funding. 
  1. You must also have the written agreement with each employer signed, are employers in the right place to properly commit to this at the moment, considering all of the pressures they will be under?
  1. The commitment statement needs completing, as part of this you will need to calculate the off-the-job hours, how is this going to be done given the employee is not working and there is no timeframe as to how long this will go on for? How are you going to calculate the working hours, when they are not working? 
  1. You will need to engage with the employer to ensure that their employee will be paid the NMW, as the Furloughed 80% might drop them below the NMW.
  1. Under the Commitment to Programme in the commitment statement, the employer has to contribute to the plan of delivery and ensure the apprenticeship is the most appropriate learning programme. Is now the right time for employers to make these decisions on staff they have just put on Furlough?

To me, there are far too many questions and far too much ambiguity to ensure that this can ever be a success for apprenticeship provision (therefore far too much risk), especially as at the moment we are only talking a very short time in the lifespan of an apprenticeship. And let’s not forget that the ESFA will be carrying out their audits and will look very closely at activity like this. 

To me it’s a very simple risk analysis question, is all of the hard work (as above) and the additional risk worth taking for about 3 months (current timeline obviously)? To me, it is not worth it.

I suggest all providers seriously review what they are doing, take a step back and review the landscape in a holistic way and make the correct decisions, not just for them but for all. And if you as a provider are intent on doing this, then can I suggest taking some legal advice. I am sure employers would be looking at legal advice on this. 

An overarching question for providers to ask employers and ask themselves:

  1. How are they are managing business as ‘usual’ or have they had to furlough staff, and what has this meant for the business?

To conclude, let’s not forget that for some businesses its ‘business as usual’ or they have branched off into different areas specifically for COVID-19 (fashion and textile firms – NHS PPE, Airbus, Dyson, Ford and Rolls-Royce manufacturing medical ventilators, BrewDog, Ineos, owned by Britain’s third richest man, Sir James Ratcliffe, is racing to build two hand sanitiser factories, The government-owned Royal Mint and not to mention the like of GE Science and Healthcare, and then we have my original sector Automotive Engineering where F1 teams are helping build new UK breathing aid for Covid-19 patients). 

“British industry has thrown its weight behind the fight against Covid-19 in a wartime-style effort”. (The Guardian). 

With that in-mind, there are still organisations out there that are operating as normal, even in the current climate and haven’t furloughed staff, on balance quite a lot of employers/providers will be affected in some way, but others aren’t. In this current time there are lots of sectors that might want apprenticeship development to also be at the forefront of their activity, not just because of the Levy, but organisations are using the ‘now’ to develop and harness new opportunities, they are creative and innovative. Apprenticeship providers could also be at the forefront of this activity through positive engagement of knowledge transfer, learning, development and at a time where new learning and development is key in some sectors (they are literally reinventing themselves and their products, a form of double-loop learning) and apprenticeship provision can be linked to this. 

Focus not on Furloughed staff for apprenticeship provision but utilise business development to engage and develop with existing staff for businesses that are operating as ‘normal’ or are in a state of diversification. 

Patrick Tucker for Promote-Ed

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