Julie Stone, Associate Pro Vice-Chancellor of External Affairs and Director of Online Learning at the University of Derby

The evolution of apprenticeships

Last month saw the latest apprenticeship data from the Department for Education released amidst the ongoing debate about how funds from the apprenticeship levy should be used.

A recent report "Runaway training" from EDSK branded half of apprenticeships as ‘fake’, claiming they were simply a rebrand of existing training courses.

Here, Julie Stone, Associate Pro Vice-Chancellor of External Affairs and Director of Online Learning at the University of Derby, explores the growing support for a reform – change that could potentially see the levy made available for different types of training, not just apprenticeships:

Growing support for levy reform

For the last two years, it has been well documented just how complex and challenging the funding, quality control and landscape for apprenticeships is, but employers and universities are committed to transforming the workplace and using the levy as a catalyst for change.

Degree apprenticeships are not degree programmes labelled as apprenticeships.

They are developed specifically with employers, as with other apprenticeships, as work-based programmes that enable individuals to gain the knowledge, skills and behaviours needed to become occupationally competent as defined in the apprenticeship standard.

The University Vocational Awards Council (UVAC) in their response to the report (Is the UK Plagued by Runaway Training and Fake Apprenticeships?) note that employers have identified that levels 4-7 are where skills gaps and shortages are most apparent.

At Derby, our apprenticeship provision is growing, with 1,000 plus learners coming through our September cohort and further cohorts planned for January and beyond. We will have 1,400 apprentices by the end of the current academic year. The impact on the businesses we work with is significant, allowing them to bring new talent into their workforces and enhancing existing staff through the development of new skills.

Time for change

However, despite the strength of our apprenticeship offer, I do still believe there is room for a reform of the levy. When the Apprenticeship Levy was first introduced in April 2017 by the government, the levy was presented as an employer led initiative, but lobbying by private organisations threatens to change that. Employers should be allowed to specify and use degrees and professional qualifications in apprenticeships that their sectors and organisations need to address the widening skills gaps.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) is calling on government to ensure the current and future workforce has the right routes to access new skills – from education through to retraining – developed in conjunction with the real-world requirements of business. They want a reform that simply works better for business and boosts uptake.

There is an argument that the levy pot should actually cover all training needs, including apprenticeships, to give businesses greater flexibility in how they use funds, allowing them to support a broader range of training activities, and how funds are transferred to other firms.

I think we need to protect apprenticeships in this, but we should seriously consider how retraining is tackled because it is clear from the Industrial Strategy, through to employer feedback that new skills are required for existing and ageing workforces.

The chief executive of the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education, Jennifer Coupland recently defended criticism of management apprenticeships, saying that using public funding on management apprenticeships is “a perfectly legitimate use”.

The initial motivation for the levy was about putting the choice into businesses’ hands. Perhaps the answer is to keep that sentiment but ringfence proportions of the funding to ensure there are pathways for young people and the ageing workforce, and to upskill and reskill the workforce to keep up with digital technology and address the Industrial Strategy’s Grand Challenges.

Julie Stone, Associate Pro Vice-Chancellor of External Affairs and Director of Online Learning

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