Anne Milton addressing the Annual AELP Conference 2019 today (25 Jun), in what may be her last speech as Apprenticeships and Skills Minister:

Good morning everyone and thank you for inviting me to this year’s annual AELP Apprenticeship Conference.

I came into post in June 2017.

When I think back to when I first got this job, I knew very little about apprenticeships and post-16 education. I knew my local college in my constituency in Guildford but that was probably all I knew and being honest I wasn’t clear about the breadth of the work they did there.

The reforms to apprenticeships were just off the blocks, the Levy had come in, the Institute had been established by everything was in its infancy. The concept of T Levels had been developed but not the detail.

My job was to get both off the ground – get them from a concept to a working system. Alongside that – restructuring of FE Colleges, adult education including ESOL, and traineeships were also on my desk but the third pressing issue was the Careers Strategy.

Apprenticeship Reforms

Bombarded by meetings with the policy teams whist drawing out the crucial areas for attention is never easy. Businesses were grumpy about the levy, the Institute as a new organisation was clunky and there were very few apprenticeship standards. Now – we have 450 standards. The Institute has developed and grown - but as a regulator. What we now need is for them to of course maintain their regulatory role, but also become a facilitator – allowing more openness in their decision making, working with business and training providers and adapting to ensure we sort out problems as they arise.

For each and every new apprenticeship the Institute has to balance the varying requirements of employers across an industry, along with the strict quality criteria that now defines each apprenticeship and be able to emerge with an apprenticeship that works for everyone, including you, our providers. Latest figures show that the use of apprenticeships standards so far in the first half of this year is 79% higher than this time last year. The use of apprenticeship standards which include more training hours has been a big step change ensuring apprentices get the quality of learning they need.

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Business is less grumpy – maybe not at very senior levels but for any staff now delivering apprenticeships they are grabbing the opportunities with both hands. A ring-fenced apprenticeship budget which is radically changing how employers undertake their workforce planning. And employers both big Levy payers and small businesses, who’ve grabbed this opportunity are evangelical in their support. Watching people of all ages gaining skills, upskilling, returning to the workplace, doing things they always wanted to do but they couldn’t afford time away from paid work. And often without the constraints on prior qualifications that have held many back.

In January, the Institute took formal responsibility for T Levels – now the IfATE – all in all a very big milestone in shaping technical and vocational education for the future. The Institute published its Quality Strategy- alongside the other members of the quality alliance- setting out how, together, we will make sure that apprenticeship training and end point assessment continues to be gold standard for years into the future.

And the levy has significantly altered employer behaviour. With some levy payers having large accounts, apprenticeship training is now an issue that fills the mind of Chief Finance Officers and Boards, training previously did not do that.

I am really pleased to see the way that employers have responded to the levy. Although only about 2% of employers actually pay it, over 49% of starts in the first half of this academic year were paid for with funds direct from levy-payers’ apprenticeship service accounts.

The introduction of Levy, as well as the move from frameworks to standards, has meant that you have had to work differently. This hasn’t always been easy, I know how well you have coped with this challenge. Many of you have worked hard to win the trust of new employers and to deliver training that meets their needs. And you have moved to a model where learning is at the centre of delivery, rather than assessment.

We continue to listen to feedback to make improvements. We know that employers want flexibility. We introduced the ability for levy-paying employers to transfer up to 10% of their funds to other employers in 2018. Following feedback, this has increased to 25%. I think some employers thought the 10% was hardly worth the time or the trouble but we are starting to see signs of those transfers. Employers would like even more flexibility but in Government we need to make sure that the apprenticeship budget is spent on the purpose for which it was intended.

Importantly, the Apprenticeship Levy now means we will be investing over £2.5bn in apprenticeships - double what we spent in 2010.

Just a word about the provision of apprenticeship training- creating the Register of Apprenticeship Training Providers in May 2017.

We want levy-paying employers in direct charge of their apprenticeship funds, offer them a wide range of choice in their apprenticeships provision, and give them the confidence that the providers they choose are high quality. It has not always been easy to make sure we get both choice and quality together, and it has taken some time to get things right and I don’t think we are completely there yet. But we have strengthened the process and now have a robust system in place, with a rolling system of applications and reviews of providers on the Register, to make sure the you have clarity about the process. And importantly regular opportunities to demonstrate that you have the skills and experience to give apprentices world class training.

Our latest figures show that apprentices in 2017/18 received around 630 training hours on average- up from 490 in 2016/17. And over nine in ten employers are satisfied with the quality of the training they receive. Good news for all.

Traineeships are one of the other issues that was on my desk when I started. It sounds like a piece of political rhetoric that we want people of all backgrounds to have the opportunity to learn new skills and go to have successful careers, you will hear politicians say it frequently but I do mean it and we do mean it in government. Easy to say but not always easy to make this a reality.

Our recent evaluation report shows that three-quarters of trainees go on to start an apprenticeship, get a job or go on to further study within 12 months of finishing their traineeship. But we shouldn’t forget the quarter that didn’t.

Just this week we have announced that the Government will introduce a new traineeship achievement rate measure for education and training providers from the academic year 2019/20 and I am pleased that AELP have welcomed this measure.  This will report on learner progression, as well as any qualifications and aims delivered, which will bring greater transparency and help young people to make informed decisions about their futures. However, I am not sure that we got this as good as it could be. Several Government Departments have pots of money that help either school and college leavers get jobs, including 18-24 year-olds and those who disappear off rolls, but we need a look at how we make sure we get this right. I am not sure and this a personal opinion if the term traineeships works well for everyone. We need pre-employment programmes that can fill the gaps that school and/or College has left for a group of younger people. I don’t think this need a radical rethink, while government talks about people working together but probably government doesn’t work with other government departments as well as it should. We need to fine tune this to make sure we get this right.

National Retraining Scheme

Since last October, we have also continued to make significant progress in developing the National Retraining Scheme.

We are aiming to roll out the first part of the National Retraining Scheme to a controlled group later this summer. As people use the scheme, we will continue to test and further improve it. It is early days and much of the early work has been about understanding the people the scheme is designed for. Who are they? How do we find out what skills they have? How do they retrain with busy lives juggling children, money and one – maybe two – jobs. How do they learn best? Can they learn online at home, or online in a community setting? What support do they need to keep going with their retraining? How do we keep people motivated and give those people support when they need it.

We have used what we have learn from the Career Learning pilots, the Construction Skills Fund and the recently launched Adult Learning Technology Innovation Fund and we will continue to use this.

The NRS will continue to develop and evolve. I want it to be the help that is needed to change careers, upskill and retrain so they get the jobs not just for the future but jobs that recognise the skills they have.

We will continue to keep you updated as we recognise that you will play a critical role in both the development and implementation of the scheme.  We want to continue to work with you on how this could be realised.

Understanding your issues and concerns have been critical in shaping our decisions and improvements.

Over the 2 years, I have personally grown to understand the issues you face in trying to carry out the very difficult job you do. I have grown to understand better your educational mission and as importantly your social mission.

I visited UHB NHS this month and their senior leaders and apprentices were passionate about the support of their training providers and how important it is to their training plans.

It was also fantastic to visit the HomeServe Academy and to meet their apprentices and staff. HomeServe have a brilliant apprenticeship programme, supported by QA Limited, that is making sure people of all ages and backgrounds gain the skills they need to get a good job in a range of industries like electrics and plumbing. What is always really important is listening to the personal stories of the apprentices I met, they demonstrate the great work that is going on.

We make the policy in the Department, but it’s you that has to deliver it. It’s you that has to work with employers and develop the right provision - you that has to manage your budgets and ultimately - you that has to train and educate people of all ages, backgrounds and levels. I don’t think in education we make the broad case for why education matters. We tend to talk about education in segmented fractions – higher education, schools, providers, further education but not the case why education matters to people mostly only in relation to jobs.

The Marmot Review (2010) - Fair Society, Healthy Lives, set out the reasons for socioeconomic inequalities in health and what could be done to reduce them. It identified that inequalities in educational outcomes affect physical and mental health, as well as income, employment and quality of life. The Marmot Review recommended that to reduce inequalities across the social classes needed a sustained commitment to children and young people through the years of education.

As a stark example – those living in the wealthier areas of Stockton-on-Tees can expect to live as much as 18 years longer than those in the more deprived parts of the same town. Even in my own seat of Guildford, men living in one area can expect to live up to 86 years. For those only 20 minutes’ drive away life expectancy is less than 80. And it is no coincidence that in those areas of the country with higher life expectancy, we see higher rates of university entry among 18 year-olds. Wherever you look in the country, you will often find a demonstrable correlation between education and life expectancy.

So, the education people receive, the role post 16 education plays, and the impact on health and in wider society cannot be underestimated.

Your work supports social mobility and social integration.
It helps to support racial and gender equality. And ultimately supports better health and helps people to live longer.

It gives everyone – irrespective of background, class, attainment, religion, race – the opportunity to get the education and skills they need to get on in life and live a much longer life.

Our Sector is a driver of social mobility and longer lives. It is at the heart of all we do. It forms our national infrastructure for skills. It improves the productivity of the economy – and improves lives.

The Future

The next big task is the future for the provision of training to employers who don’t pay the apprenticeship levy. We want more employers onto the apprenticeship service, in a reasonable timeframe, so that they can take advantage of the benefits of taking more control of the provision they are buying. But I am also very mindful of the need to get this right and have called upon small and medium size businesses to help test the transition to the service.

I know that many of you will be keen to support this process and hope you will work with your SMEs to apply to be part of our test. Others of you will be disappointed that the test is limited to providers that have current non-levy contracts. I would like to assure you that small and medium sized employers will be able to choose from every provider on the Register soon. We want to work with you all to make this transition smooth, glitch free and work well.

Thank you and close

I would like to thank all of the training providers for all you have done and all that you do. You have been integral to the success of our Apprenticeship reforms.

Thank you for all your work. Thank you for the continued and extraordinary efforts you make on behalf of many people in this country. And thank you for never giving up in your mission.

Anne Milton, Apprenticeships and Skills Minister

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