SFA ‘strongly encourage’ 12 month minimum

Providers are being urged to introduce new apprenticeship duration requirements immediately.

The Skills Funding Agency is calling on existing apprentices aged 16-18, where possible, to be given a 12-month minimum programme.

It comes after the skills minister John Hayes’ announcement last year of the year-long minimum for teenage apprentices, which will come into effect on August 1.

The Agency said the requirement will be set out in 2012/13 funding rules, which they hope to publish by the end of March.

A statement posted on their website says: “In announcing this, it is also our expectation that all training organisations and employers start to implement this with immediate effect.

“Whilst the introduction of the new funding rule does not formally apply to those already in learning prior to August, we strongly encourage all training organisations and employers to offer all existing apprentices aged 16-18 a 12-month minimum programme wherever it is possible to do so.”

The statement also gave an insight into how funding is likely to be designed for apprenticeships.

It read: “It is important that we work with the sector to ensure that prior learning is better reflected in apprenticeship funding policies and that public funding is only used to support the delivery of new skills and competencies.”

Although most have welcomed the move, including the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) whose chief executive Graham Hoyle said that it had become “the norm” for the industry already, others are cautious.

Some critics, in comments posted on the FE Week website, believe apprenticeships should be about the amount of on-the-job work experience, rather than a set time period, while others say some do not warrant a year-long duration.

Another concern is for “capable” learners who can finish in a shorter time becoming disillusioned over their programme.

Work is also underway between the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) and issuing authorities to ensure frameworks allow “sufficient time” for the apprentice to learn new skills while achieving “the highest level of competence” possible.

The Agency added: “We expect in a small number of cases this will lead to changes in the duration of the framework.”

A review is also taking place to establish if a minimum duration can be applied to apprentices aged 19 and over.

“Once the review is completed, we will ensure that adequate notice is given should any changes to current funding rules be called for by government ministers,” said the Agency.

However, further change has not been met with approval by the AELP.

Mr Hoyle said: “We are still firmly of the view that much greater flexibility needs to be both available and exercised to fully take into account the varying levels of skill and experience that these older workers bring to the completion of a full apprenticeship framework.”