Apprenticeship reforms remain on the agenda and could be even more important as the government seeks to hit its 3m starts target. Rebecca Rhodes outlines the reform situation.

The importance of apprenticeships to productivity and growth in the economy is evidenced by the government’s continued commitment to ensure employers lead the development of high quality apprenticeships, and have the purchasing power to decide where investment is made.

With the government now setting a target of 3m apprenticeships in the next five years, and recent commitments announced to make the apprenticeship brand enshrined in law, it is even more important that everyone with a role in delivering the new apprenticeship programme works together.

More than 1,200 employers are directly involved in developing the new apprenticeship standards as part of the Trailblazer programme.

Providers are at the heart of ensuring that apprenticeship delivery through employers is a reality

The apprenticeship standard is the foundation of apprenticeship reform. So far, 24 standards, developed by employer groups, have been approved and made available for delivery. The next announcement of new standards ready for delivery, plus those to be developed, by August, with more to follow in the new academic year.

Employer groups are working on more than 260 standards, and this rolling development process will continue throughout 2015 and 2016, ensuring coverage of key occupations in a wide range of sectors over the next academic year.

As the longer-term model for apprenticeship develops over the summer, for employers and providers wanting to start delivering apprenticeship standards, the funding model used in 2014 to 2015 has been extended to cover the 2015 to 2016 academic year.

A key principle of the future of apprenticeships is that employers invest financially, and in the 2014 to 2016 model, the government will match this employer investment up to a cap set by the SFA — in the ratio of one third employer financial investment matched by two thirds government investment.

Employers are also, where eligible, entitled to up to three incentive payments, paid directly to them through their chosen lead provider. Providers starting delivery of apprenticeship standards in 2015 to 216 will, as now, use existing data collection routes as the underpinning payment and earnings system. Providers also use the apprenticeship standards funding rules, developed for the Trailblazer apprenticeship.

Providers are at the heart of ensuring that apprenticeship delivery through employers is a reality. Employers will continue to want the advice and expertise available from their apprenticeship provider to guide them. The lead provider is the employer’s key partner in every aspect of apprenticeship delivery; agreeing a price for training and assessment and subcontracting with other providers involved in delivery, and managing payment processes, including the incentive payments paid to employers.

From 2017 onwards, the future mechanism for apprenticeship funding for employers will be through a new online voucher. This will set out the discount for each apprentice. The funding policy that will define the value of each voucher is under development.

This new apprenticeship funding mechanism is part of a larger, employer-facing, digital apprenticeship resource.

The SFA is working with employers and providers to ensure that the new system design includes all the resources and tools to help employers make decisions about taking on an apprentice.

For example, employers will not only be able to register their apprentices and access the new voucher, but they will also use the system to gather information about all apprenticeship standards and search for details of suitable providers.