From education to employment

How the Apprenticeship Service is leading the way in digital innovation

Here at the Apprenticeship Service, we are known for our digital innovation.

In 2018, we won the Digital Public Service Innovation of the Year award. We are planning new innovations at present, which will be the subject of blogs in the coming months.

However in the meantime we were delighted to showcase our work to Emma Stace, Chief Digital Officer, who came to the office to meet us. She wrote:

“Thousands of employers offer apprenticeships. The challenge lies in matching up people looking for apprenticeships with companies offering them.

After about 5 years of continuous iteration, the find an apprenticeship service has earned its place as one of government’s most effective user-centered high-volume transactional services. So far, 2.2 million young people have signed up for the service, which has processed 6 million transactions.

But there’s more to this service than meets the eye: it’s not just one service. It’s many. There are multiple different groups of users, and each has different needs. These include:

  • People who want to become apprentices
  • Employers who are offering apprenticeships
  • Training providers (like colleges)
  • End-point assessment agencies (organisations that assess how well each apprentice has done in their learning)

So many different users. So many varied user needs. So many different services required. To deal with all that, you need quite a team. That’s what it’s all about.

A whole building for agile delivery

The work on apprenticeships is split between 18 different agile teams, alongside many other people in a variety of functions and professions. In Coventry, they fill a whole floor. The Education and Skills Funding Agency now has an entire building set aside for agile delivery teams.

The change that’s happened over the last 5 years is really impressive.

As well as the original core service for finding an apprenticeship, there are now several additional services that sit alongside it, meeting those many different user needs. Very briefly, they are:

Find an apprenticeship


This service is for people who want to become apprentices. They can search by job type, or geographically, or by industry sector.

Recruit an apprentice


This service is for training providers to post vacancies and manage applications in behalf of employers offering apprenticeship.

Find apprenticeship training


This service is for employers to find appropriate training, and for training providers to make their training available.

Manage apprenticeships 


This service helps employers manage the whole process. Through it, they can view their apprenticeship levy funding, add apprentices, sign employer agreements (for example, if they transfer unused apprenticeship funds to other organisations) and manage their PAYE details.

Estimate apprenticeship funding


This service helps employers find out if they will pay the apprenticeship levy, and how much they will have to spend on apprenticeships.

This is what happens when policy and delivery work together

We’ve been talking a lot about merging policymaking and user-centered design, mainly because DfE has a long history of the former and is still relatively new at the latter.

But the apprenticeships service team shows what happens when we get it right.

The service design team included embedded policy professionals right from the start. They’ve made user needs their highest priority, and done impressive amounts of user research – including an amazing 4,000 research sessions with employers. Fantastic.

Gary Tucker is Head of Digital at the Coventry office, and he knows how to grow agile teams. He says this: “When you start testing policy against real user needs that have emerged from your research, you start to see ways the policy can change. When policy people and user centered design people start working together, you come up with policy that works in an agile way, and meets user needs.”

I came away from Coventry buzzing with excitement at what I’d seen there. I couldn’t resist posting a celebratory tweet.

Thank you Gary, and Eileen, for the strong leadership and the guided tour. Thank you to everyone in ESFA, every single team. You’re doing great work.”

Read Emma’s blog in full here.

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