From education to employment

Why it’s easier than ever for employers to take on apprentices

By Rupert Crossland, Director of Audit and Compliance, Professional Assessment Ltd.

In this article, Rupert explores the most important apprenticeship funding changes for 2023-24 and what they mean for employers with existing or new apprentices.

The Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) and Department for Education (DfE) have released the funding rules changes for 2023-2024. After exploring the changes from the previous year’s rules, there is a theme that emerges; many of the changes make it logistically easier for employers to take on apprentices.

Here we explore the changes that have particular significance for employers.

Flexibility in scheduling off-the-job training

Some of the greatest changes in terms of impacts to the employer are around off-the-job (OTJ) training. While previously, some active learning and OTJ had to take place every 4 weeks, now it must take place every calendar month. While this doesn’t sound like a massive change, it provides a important flexibility for scheduling learning for employers who may want their apprentices to be working throughout most of a two-month period, for example, retail apprentices over Christmas and the January sales.

Making enrolment easier

To help facilitate the sign-up process, it no longer must be the apprentice’s line manager that signs the documentation. It may now be a suitable individual at the employer organisation with responsibility to agree to the programme.

When it comes to agreeing the training plan, the training provider can accept an email confirmation from the employer on the start date and obtain the employer’s signature within 42 days of starting. However, our advice at Professional Assessment Ltd is that this is an exception and employers should look to provide confirmation and a signature before the start date as policy to help maintain a smooth onboarding process.

There is greater flexibility in the initial assessment process. If the employer is unable to attend the initial assessment, the provider must give them the opportunity to contribute and must send them the relevant information after the meeting for review and signature. The employer must agree on the recognition of prior learning, how the apprenticeship will be achieved, the price of the apprenticeship and to input on progress reviews.

Simplifying completion

Where an apprentice works less than 30 hours per week, you must still extend the planned duration. However, they can now complete once they have met the 1-year minimum duration, provided they have met the OTJ requirements.

On the more administrative side of the changes, a statement signed by the apprentice and the employer to agree that OTJ was less than planned only needs to be provided when the duration is shorter than planned AND hours are less than planned.

Making use of training provider expertise

The changes also take some of the administrative workload from the employer and place the responsibilities with their training provider. Most noticeably, providers are now responsible for choosing the end point assessment organisation (EPAO) for the employer, which allows them to draw on their sector experience and existing relationships with EPAOs. That said, the employer may continue to select the EPAO if they wish.

It has also been clarified that the provider is only responsible for checking that the apprentice is being paid a lawful wage by the employer whilst the apprentice is on programme.

Flexibility in timings for the employer

Progress reviews must be completed at least 4 times a year, rather than every 12 weeks, and an alternative frequency can be agreed if there is evidence for a reason behind this. Similar to the initial assessment, if the employer can’t attend the progress review, they must be sent details to review and sign after the meeting.

What the changes mean for the future of apprenticeships

As you can see, these changes grant a greater degree of flexibility for the employer. Providers may wish to make their employers aware of these as part of their apprenticeship marketing processes. We hope this means more businesses are incentivised to make the most of these changes and expand the number of apprentices or start running apprenticeships for all the benefits they bring to a workplace.

To help continue support the future of apprenticeships, the ESFA could look at how employers can lean more on their training providers and EPAOs that have experience and expertise in their sectors. The flexibility that these changes grant is a great step in making it easier for businesses to take on apprentices, however when future changes are considered, there still should be a robust and clear framework that ensures employers appreciate what is expected of them.

By Rupert Crossland, Director of Audit and Compliance at Professional Assessment Ltd.

Rupert currently sits on the board of directors at PAL and leads a team of compliance experts to deliver a high-quality service to providers. For more information about Professional Assessment Ltd visit here.

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