The AELP wants the government to pay for all level two apprenticeships, but this is not the answer, argues Adrian Anderson

The two drivers behind the apprenticeship reforms are to increase productivity and enhance social mobility. From a productivity and economic perspective, if the UK is to prosper and succeed we need to develop a high-skill economy and apprenticeships that deliver the skills employers need to increase productivity.

The call from AELP to prioritise funding for level two apprenticeship provision and pay for such a proposal by increasing employer co-investment for apprenticeships at levels four to seven, on a sliding scale from 20 to 50 per cent is fundamentally flawed. Is their argument really that priority should be given to level two apprenticeships in business administration and customer service, rather than to STEM apprenticeships in vital technical-level roles, or to level six apprenticeships in digital and engineering occupations?

The argument that prioritising level two provision supports social mobility also only goes so far. Certainly, apprenticeships at level two support young people entering the workforce. That’s great, but then what? And why prioritise level two apprenticeships for adults including those in employment?

Apprenticeships at level two support young people entering the workforce. That’s great, but then what?

To maximise social mobility, don’t we need to use apprenticeships as the basis for work-based progression routes to open pathways for new types of learner cohorts to well-paid technical, associate professional, professional and managerial occupations? To disincentivise employer spending on high-level apprenticeships, as AELP proposes, reduces opportunities for those completing level two and level three apprenticeships to move through work-based learning programmes to technical-level and senior managerial occupations.

AELP argues that removing the 10-per-cent co-investment requirement would lead to a dramatic increase in the number of level two apprenticeships.

Perhaps, but surely if an employer will not even pay 10 per cent of the cost of an apprenticeship, they don’t exactly value the programme or see it delivering benefits to their business. The answer is for training providers to focus on new standards and deliver value to employers, so they decide to invest in higher-level apprenticeships.

So, where does UVAC stand as the organisation representing higher education providers?

Firstly, it is essential that the 10-per-cent employer co-investment requirement is retained for apprenticeships at all levels. The contribution will ensure the market is driven by employers and that they invest in meaningful apprenticeships.

Secondly, the funding system should be used to incentivise non-levy-paying employers to use apprenticeships to support a post-Brexit economy, as businesses will need to compete internationally, or to support individuals acquire the skills to deliver vital public services. This could be achieved by raising the employer contribution required for apprenticeships in occupational areas such as business administration and customer care at level two to, say, 25 per cent. The savings could then – if there were issues of affordability – be used for more STEM apprenticeships, to increase technician apprenticeships at below bachelor’s degree level, or to increase funding bands for high-cost apprenticeship provision needed by the UK economy.

Thirdly, shouldn’t the funding system reward employers who do the most to support the learning, development and progression of their staff?

Perhaps the funding system could incentivise the development of progression pathways from apprenticeships to technical, managerial, associate professional and professional job roles. For entry into apprenticeships at levels three to seven, the funding system could perhaps reward employers who recruit from under-represented groups, tackle gender imbalance or low level BEM participation.

Wouldn’t we rather have this than yet more “free” training that adds little to the government’s twin priorities of increased productivity and social mobility?

Adrian Anderson is chief executive of the University Vocational Awards Council