Recently it was announced that the number of apprenticeships in the UK fell by 24 percent in the first six months of the academic year. Indeed, official figures from the Department of Education revealed that between August 2017 and January 2018 there were 206,100 apprenticeship starts compared to 269,600 at the same time the year before.

Created a year ago, the Apprenticeship Levy scheme aimed to create three million apprenticeships by 2020, however businesses are failing to rely on the levy to take on apprenticeships, with many businesses finding the scheme complex, rigid and uncompromising.

Why are apprenticeships so important?

A blend of education and work-based training, apprenticeships are incredibly important as they are perfectly placed to reliably build marketable skills and bridge skills gaps in the UK workforce. They combine on-the-job experience with the chance to gain qualifications and develop vocational skills. In the 2015/16 academic year, 899,400 people participated in apprenticeship schemes in the UK, the highest number on record according to the Department for Education.

The apprentice levy imposes a levy of 0.5 percent of annual payroll on UK employers with an annual pay bill of over £3 million. Participating employers can set up accounts through the digital apprenticeship service to access funds to pay for apprenticeship schemes. In theory, these government schemes are an ideal opportunity to develop courses that meet the needs of employers, educators and apprentices today.

It is undoubtedly a considerable incentive for employers to get benefit back from what they pay in. Therefore, it’s no surprise that the government and employers want to see the initiatives deliver, not only in terms of numbers but also in terms of highly trained apprentices with the skills that businesses need. With this in mind, it’s crucial that government reforms address these issues as quickly as possible.

Modernising apprenticeship schemes

The levy is also raising the topic of apprenticeships in general, and what else is needed to ensure they are a success. For businesses that are taking advantage of the levy, there’s a lot of responsibility on their shoulders to deliver an engaging, worthwhile apprenticeship that translates to business results.

For example, in order to attract and retain apprentices, businesses need to ensure they are shifting away from the traditional way of learning. They need to deliver training via digital tools that people are increasingly identifying with. The modern-day workforce want to use and hone their digital skills, and will assume that employers will recognise this and have tools in place that will enable them to make full use of their expertise. It’s key that businesses are exploiting technologies available that can help accommodate and advance the future generation of workers’ skills now.

Three key attributes that help businesses deliver an exceptional on-the-go learning experience for today’s apprenticeships include:

  1. Ease of access – apprentices often split their time across their place of study, such as a university or college, and the workplace. They also study in their own time, at home or elsewhere. Digital learning tools are the cornerstone of easy access to course content and information whenever and wherever apprentices need to engage in their studies.
  2. Adaptive learning – apprentices have a varied profile; they come from different backgrounds and embark on their training with differing starting points of knowledge. They all learn at different rates, require varying levels of support and respond individually to a range of teaching styles. For these, and many other reasons, it’s important that each student’s chance of success is maximised through personalised learning paths that adapt according to each apprentice’s progress and needs. This supports learning at an individual pace, which not only results in a higher likelihood of success, but also delivers a more rewarding learning experience.
  3. Outcomes-based learning – within a given timeframe for a period of study, students will progress at different rates. The goal is the outcome, so the most effective approach is to set the right targets and generate optimal learning paths to get learners there. Within this, some apprentices will need to spend more time on topics than others; they may even need to dive into additional material to plug a knowledge gap before they can move on. E-learning can support this adaptable content delivery ¾ or competency-based education (CBE). Not only that, but through tracking and learning analytics it can also provide insights into student progress and predicted outcomes. Armed with this knowledge, course tutors can put in place proactive measures to keep learners on track.

As the government works with businesses to urgently reform the levy to make it workable, it’s important that businesses also look at ways they can ensure apprenticeships are a success. As demands and pressures on apprenticeship schemes continue to grow, it’s key that companies recognise the important role technology plays in helping educational institutions and employers maximise the benefit of upskilling future generations with the skills demanded by modern business.

Elliot Gowans, VP EMEA & LATAM, D2L

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