While apprenticeship expansion is very welcome, let’s hope it’s not derailed by some of the disastrous aspects of the reforms, says John Hyde.

Future generations will look back at this moment to realise that apprenticeships for the 21st century have finally arrived. The extension of apprenticeships to all skills and managerial levels – encompassing all manufacturing, service and commercial enterprises, plus the public sector and all the professions – constitutes a recognition (finally) that over 80 per cent of what we learn in our lifetimes is acquired at the workplace, and that apprenticeships are the best way to quantify this.

The reforms instigated by Doug Richards and Matt Hancock brought a few advantages, namely the introduction of higher apprenticeships, graduate apprenticeships and professional apprenticeships in banking, law, accountancy; and in the public sector, planned apprenticeships in teaching and nursing.

We are moving towards apprenticeships being available at every level and in every sector, profession and public service; funded directly by employers through the levy or co-investment, with the cost removed from general taxation. As apprenticeships become a more viable option – and a financially attractive alternative to sixth form, FE college or university – the government will make substantial savings from general taxation by simultaneously reducing funding to these institutions, as potential students opt for apprenticeships instead.

Let us hope, however, that the welcome expansion of apprenticeships to graduates, the professions and the public sector is not derailed by the disastrous delivery and end-assessment ‘reforms’ that were recommended by Richards and Hancock and so clumsily implemented by government.

Employer resistance is beginning to surface over apprenticeships that have bizarre end-point assessment criteria or do not include a qualification in the standards, as the new standards are introduced.

The uncontrolled development of end-point assessments is concerning employers. At one extreme, a small garage owner will have to lose their apprentice for four days away from work to attend an assessment centre, causing substantial disruption to an SME. Conversely, other sectors have much shorter assessments, with perhaps a 90-minute online knowledge test, one brief site-observation and a 40-minute discussion from the external assessor. Even this means two more days away from work than the highly regulated, continuous assessment currently in place.

Uncontrolled development of end-point assessments is concerning employers

Employers are questioning how such an insignificant amount of time from a stranger (sorry, ‘external independent assessor’) can produce a valid judgement, let alone distinguish between a pass and a distinction.

 

Now that parliament is sitting, let’s hope some of the anomalies that came from the much-delayed SFA announcements on the levy, rates and co-investment will be corrected.

For example, the SFA, in attempting to persuade training providers to adopt the new standards by restricting any growth cases, is in fact penalising any employer who adopts the new standards early – by demanding a one-third contribution now, when from April it will be just 10 per cent for non-levy payers. This provides no incentive to move now to the new standards, especially as the third rate will continue for the duration of the apprenticeship and cannot be reduced to 10 per cent from April or set off against any levy payment.

The abolition of the area uplift will also decimate the apprenticeship provision currently available in London, when providers realise they cannot afford to operate in the capital with these substantially reduced rates. So much for the new prime minister’s ‘social mobility’ agenda. This seems just another example of policies being driven by the limitations of the HMRC/DAS software and not by what is best for the national skills and mobility agenda.

John Hyde is chairman of HIT Training, a hospitality training provider operating across England.