2017: The year in apprenticeships (part two)

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Welcome to part two of our review of apprenticeships in 2017.

Social mobility

The apprenticeships funding shake-up has proved controversial at times with regards to improving social mobility - especially for the young. Apprenticeships for 16-18-year olds are no longer fully funded (except in the case of ‘micro-employers’) and with the 90/10 co-funding split the same regardless of the age of the apprentice, it could seem more attractive to hire older candidates with more experience, leaving those most in need of a kick start in the world of work out in the cold. With functional skills excluded from the 20% off the job funding requirement, the most disadvantaged candidates, who may require additional support, could be seen as even less attractive.

With recent data showing that Levy paying employers are prioritising existing employees for apprenticeships instead of recruiting new entrants, and are also prioritising higher and degree level apprenticeships over intermediate and advanced levels (starting points for the young) it is clear that the apprenticeship landscape is changing. And while change may be the point, and there are some very exciting and substantial benefits to the change balance is still vital. A report released by The Sutton Trust at the end of November found that disadvantaged young people are substantially less likely than their better-off peers to start the best apprenticeships, and this is something we must be aware of and reactive to.

Despite this, we must also understand that the concept of apprenticeships is evolving, or perhaps just expanding outwards and upwards, to encompass more and more roles at higher levels. And this is a very good thing, because it is addressing the urgent skills gap (every year 40,000 STEM positions are unfilled in the UK, for example) and if we do it right, it canhelp people keep on moving forwards in their careers, help the unemployed start a new career, create fully stocked leadership pipelines within businesses, or help them adapt quickly to changing marketplaces. And of course, degree apprenticeships offer better career pathways to talented individuals who are financially excluded from the university route.  Many of the large employers who operate apprenticeship programmes alongside graduate intake say that they do so in order to have access to a wider, more diverse talent pool.

Meanwhile, Justine Greening’s Social Mobility Action plan, released on the 14th December, makes it clear that social mobiliy improvement is a multi-faceted, complex beast that spans all levels of education, can vary according to regional requirements, and requires the buy-in and participation of businesses, civil society and communities. Apprenticeships may be a factor but not the only one.

A slow burn of the Institute for Apprenticeships

The Institute for Apprenticeships was officially launched on the 3rd April but has taken a while to get up to full strength and speed. 

November was a particularly important month for announcements coming out of the IoA: a new Chief Executive, full membership of its 15 different industry Route Panels, and quality criteria all announced.

The new Chief Executive, Sir Gerry Berragan, was formerly responsible for leading the army’s training provision, giving him experience of running big, complex organisations. While there has been some frustration about the pace of approval of new standards and assessment plans going through the IoA to date, with the Institute now at full strength, we should see this improving in 2018. Indeed, the Institute released in December a document entitled: ‘Faster & Better: A Preview of the changes to come’ outlining precisely how this will be achieved.

What’s next?

From a training provider point of view it has been a mixed picture – with some not yet addressing the need to make a switchover from the old frameworks to the new standards. However, with two of the most popular frameworks – health and social care, and hospitality – being withdrawn at the end of December and others quickly following suit, the new year is going to ring in the new era for training providers quite definitively. Training providers are also going to be working with employers in new and closer ways. Evolution. Community partnership and flexibility will be essential.

Apprenticeships are changing radically. The undertaking is a massive one, and with transformation on this scale, some pain is to be expected. Hopefully, like the caterpillar emerging from its cocoon, the struggle is a very part of what enables the butterfly to take flight. 2018 should be an interesting year for employers and providers alike as everyone involved in the delivery of apprenticeships continues to debate and work together to shape this brave new world.