From education to employment

Streamlining the System

Jane Hickie, Chief Executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP)

Why AELP and the Department for Education are working together to break down barriers in the apprenticeship system

Apprenticeships allow people to earn while they learn, gaining valuable experience. They transform hundreds of thousands of lives every year. We also know that there’s big demand from employers, providers and, of course, potential learners to access them in greater numbers. Yet far too often, there are too many barriers to engagement. That’s why we’re- for the first time- hosting a joint conference with the Department for Education (DfE), which aims to simplify the apprenticeship system.

‘Streamlining the System: Removing Barriers to Apprenticeships’ takes place on 8 December at the National Convention Centre in Birmingham, and will be chaired by AELP’s Director of Policy, Simon Ashworth. The conference, sponsored by Just IT, will bring together the skills sector to discuss how we can simplify the apprenticeship system so it’s easier for learners, employers and training providers to access these brilliant life-changing qualifications.

Exciting speakers, engaging workshops

We have an excellent set of speakers from the DfE lined up for ‘Streamlining the System’ – including Peter Mucklow, Director for Apprenticeships; Karen Riley, Deputy Director for Apprenticeship Quality; John Myers, Head of Apprenticeship Funding Policy, and many more. The DfE clearly recognise the scale of the problem and their speakers will set out what they’re doing to make improvements. There will, of course, be opportunities for delegates to ask questions and get their views across.

But it’s not all about speakers, we want to hear directly from providers about the barriers they’re facing – and how these can be resolved. So we’re giving delegates the chance to take part in interactive and collaborative workshop sessions to discuss and debate key topics. We’ve also arranged for peer-to-peer support through a provider panel session, which means attendees will get to discuss what works well, what could be improved and what changes are necessary to break down existing barriers.

Simplification must be a priority

The apprenticeship programme is, of course, in need of long-term investment to ensure its sustainability for years to come. Rising costs mean that funding rates do not always match the cost of deliver and that is becoming a real issue for providers. However, at a time when the public finances are tight, an effective simplification project would help to increase apprenticeship numbers without significant extra spending. The good news is that there are definite opportunities for simplification – and my view is that there are two parts of the system which need looking at as a priority.

Firstly, the unnecessary burden placed on employers through bureaucracy is a huge barrier for employers – particularly small and medium-sized enterprises. Non-levy paying employers still find it far too difficult to navigate and access the apprenticeship system and this is clearly having an impact on apprenticeship take ups for young people and at entry-level. This causes issues for providers too – I’m regularly told by providers that they’re having to employ extra staff just to administer the system and support employers. Next week, I hope we will hear from DfE officials about how we can resolve this but perhaps that time has come for an auto enrolment system for employers. This would certainly go some way to reducing the administrative burden involved in taking on extra apprentices.

The Apprenticeship funding rules need reviewing

Secondly, the apprenticeship funding rules need reviewing. These have gone from 50 pages to over 140 in just a few short years! Nobody would argue against having the right measures in place to ensure providers are accountable when receiving public money – but the rules are overly bureaucratic and prevent providers getting on with delivering quality provision. Several providers have actually told me they’re now having to hire as many staff to oversee compliance as delivery itself! If we can reduce the bureaucracy around funding rules, it would save providers a lot of time and money at a time when many are facing significant extra cost pressures.

Allow providers to focus on what they do best

Whether from a learner, employer or provider perspective, there are still far too many barriers to accessing apprenticeships. The DfE’s commitment to simplifying the apprenticeship system is definitely a positive step forward, and we’re keen to facilitate conversations. I’m sure that the event will be a great success, with training providers and employers sharing feedback and working directly with policymakers to inform how we can build on the success of this flagship skills programme.

By Jane Hickie, Chief Executive, Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP)

Bookings are still open – with a few spaces left. Don’t delay, book your place today and make your voice heard at this crucial event. I hope to see you there!

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