So what’s new? Well, there are lots of new employer-designed apprenticeship standards available (some of them are great, some not so great…), the apprenticeship levy is coming, there will be no growth for training providers delivering frameworks next year, contracts to March 2017 have been issued, we have a new skills minister, skills have moved from business to education…
As independent training providers we are used to change. I’d go as far as to say that change is the only true constant in this industry. And we are used to being the first people that our clients turn to when they are trying to make sense of these changes whether they’re changes to apprenticeships or to apprenticeship funding. It’s fair to say we’re a pretty resilient bunch who, between us, deliver 76% of England's apprenticeships. Like lots of you, I try to sit close to the table when discussions are being had and plans being made. I work hard at keeping my ear to the ground - being well informed matters. Yet I find myself at the beginning of our new SFA contract year and I almost don't dare answer many of the questions that are being raised for fear it'll all change next month!
This morning I was talking to a large client who traditionally takes on a significant number of apprentices in January, and has done so for years. They understand that under the new apprenticeship standards they are required to make cash contributions, and had assumed they'd be able to use their apprenticeship levy payments to offset their cash contributions for existing apprentices as well as new ones post-levy. They were shocked to find that won't be the case. "But that means we'll be paying twice!" was the cry - and of course, they are right. So, they've decided that this year's intake of apprentices will be delayed until April (or whenever the levy comes in). I'm sure they're not the only ones. Has government considered the impact that this could have on apprenticeship numbers? And the impact further delays in levy announcements might have?
I was with another client last week, and they asked me what the employer contribution would be for the new apprenticeship standards. I told them that it's currently 1/3rd but there was talk of that changing for SMEs and non-levy payers. "To what?" Good question: we've all heard talk of a 10% employer contribution, and no contribution for 16-18s. I have apprentices in business administration and IT in my company, and I'm thinking twice before committing to a 1/3rd contribution given it could change to 10%, or even less, very soon. I can't blame my clients for thinking the same way.
I'd like to welcome Robert Halfon to his new role. He seems like a chap who is properly committed to apprenticeships and someone who understands the benefits to both the apprentice and the business employing them. How refreshing.
If I could have one wish (ok, one and a half) it would be this – Robert, please tell us what you are planning to do with employer cash contributions, and please tell us when the levy is coming in. Soon. A percentage and a date, that’s all. Training providers support many thousands of businesses which need certainty if they are going to invest in apprenticeships. They need to know that an investment today will not lead to them being out of pocket tomorrow (think how unpopular a minister who made that happen might be…). Skills may no longer come under the auspices of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, but it doesn’t mean apprenticeships are now, or ever could be, divorced from business.
Jill Whittaker, Managing Director, HIT Training