......to a pimply faced teenager in a hard-hat (probably against a backdrop of scaffolding and steam vents and stuff) or to a suited and booted ‘professional’ (inverted commas deliberate) with a penchant for team names that sound like a nightclub (evolution, aspire, zenith etc) talking into a phone held horizontally in front of the mouth instead of to the ear (does anyone else ever do that?)
Completely ignoring the second of these stereotypes for the time being (because, well… Katie Hopkins) the most common perception of apprentices in the minds of most people is that they are young school-leavers aged 16-18, probably not cut-out for alternative academic routes of study. We know, of course, that this simply isn’t true. Apprenticeships are not a dumbed down option for the less academically inclined. Indeed, an Intermediate apprenticeship is equivalent to 5 good GCSEs, an Advanced apprenticeship to 2 A-levels, and Higher Level apprenticeships to degree level courses. And it is also a fallacy that apprenticeships are usually taken up by school leavers. In 2016, only 26% of new apprenticeship starts were by under 19s, while in fact over 25s accounted for 44% of starts.
However, previously, with government funding for apprenticeships tied to learner age, there was inevitably a knock-on effect on candidate selection/ preferences on the part of Training Providers and Colleges – particularly within sectors where young apprentices are in ready supply. It was much easier to help potential apprentices to find an employer when there were no training costs for the employer to pay. It was also a much simpler financial pipeline when the funding was coming in full from the government, negating the need to ‘chase’ multiple employers for payment.
Yet another impediment to employers’ selection of older people for apprenticeships were restrictions on funding eligibility in terms of existing level of education. Graduates were not entitled to any funding for higher apprenticeships, meaning that employers would have to foot the bill.
Combined with lingering snobbery among young people around the superiority of university degrees versus apprenticeships, the potential candidates for Higher Level Apprenticeships in some sectors were few and far between.
In the new world of apprenticeships, these blockers no longer exist. Funding is tied purely to the standard itself and pre-existing levels of education have much less bearing. This opens up apprenticeships more convincingly as an option for employers to develop existing staff, as well as making them a viable option for career changers, or an older demographic who may have been left high and dry by redundancy. Indeed, the creation of apprenticeships in new sectors of industry in areas with high levels of employment could be life-changing.
However, using Levy funding on internal staff should not be seen as an easy option, or a ‘cheat’ for using rather than losing that funding. The SFA are already wise to the potential for this, and have specifically written a warning into the funding rules that they “will monitor apprentice destination data and HMRC data to ensure that job roles are genuine and are not created purely for the purposes of the apprenticeship programme. We will take action if employer recruitment practice is detrimental either to the apprentice or to the apprenticeship brand.” It is crucial that employers understand the commitment of an apprenticeship and that it cannot be done on top of or alongside any current role.
It is not a question of offering modular training to help an existing member of staff to do their job better. As the funding rules state: “An apprenticeship is a genuine job with an accompanying skills development programme.” The apprentice must therefore follow the full programme attached to whatever Standard they are working towards, which implies it would be a new role that is higher, better or substantially different to what they are currently doing. As with any internal promotion, there may consequently be a need to backfill the role that the apprentice is vacating. This should not be off-putting to employers, however.
Apprenticeships are a great way of rewarding loyal and talented employees and take a lot of the risk of the unknown out of the apprenticeship hiring process. It also offers the opportunity to create an apprenticeship for the newly vacated role too, perpetuating a virtuous cycle.In terms of eligibility, while previous level of education is not in itself an impediment, if the apprenticeship is at the same level as, or lower than, their highest qualification it must be in a completely different field of study. “We will fund an apprentice to undertake an apprenticeship at the same level as, or at a lower level than, a qualification they already hold, if the apprenticeship will allow the individual to acquire substantive new skills and you can evidence that the content of the training is materially different from any prior qualification or a previous apprenticeship.” So a BA degree in English literature wouldn’t stop an employee being put through a Level 4 apprenticeship in Business and Professional Administration, for example, but a BA in Business might.
In short, the removal of age-related funding and the funding restrictions around previous levels of qualification offer us an opportunity to look with fresh eyes at apprenticeships. Not just for bringing in new talent but also in helping move home grown talent through an organisation. Not only could it reduce the headache of succession planning, rewarding existing employees and offering a clear path for progression is also likely to promote greater loyalty and employee retention.
In this view, apprenticeships are no longer just a ‘start-of-career’ qualification, but could instead become regular pit stops along the pathway of an individual career. If we go back to our original point about apprentice stereotypes, it’s time for Allan Sugar’s career-driven apprentices (or something akin to them, albeit with less abrasive personalities and genuine business acumen) to overtake that spotty YTS scheme youth in our perceptions. Because, all joking aside, we absolutely need to start seeing apprenticeships as valuable opportunities for people to gain gold-standard professional experience that will offer them upward mobility in their careers.
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