Off-the-job training rule hangs over AELP autumn conference

Off-the-job training rule hangs over AELP autumn conference

The government must urgently address employer resistance to the minimum off-the-job training apprenticeship rule, the AELP has said ahead of its autumn conference.

This is one of many actions that the association is asking for, to foster a “more flexible” approach to the apprenticeship reforms and make them a success – and something that apprenticeships minister Anne Milton has herself said she wants to implement.

According to the AELP, it must be a “top priority” to recognise the challenges employers face with the new rule that specifies off-the-job training must amount to “20 per cent of the apprentice’s contracted employment hours across the whole apprenticeship”.

A spokesperson claimed employers in both the private and public sectors, including NHS Trusts, can’t afford an apprentice who is “non-productive” for one day every week in order to meet this criterion.

Nor, it is claimed, can they afford the “cost of staff backfill to cover their absence when there are many other appropriate flexible and effective ways of delivering knowledge, skills and behaviours required”.

Anne Milton

AELP also denies that this much off-the-job training is required to ensure the quality of teaching on apprenticeships is sufficiently high, and that learning time isn’t swallowed up by work requirements.

Two large levy-paying employers – Health Education England and Grafton Merchanting GB – are expected to voice their concerns about the 20-per-cent rule at today’s AELP autumn conference in Manchester.

The AELP has been demanding widespread changes throughout the year, asking particularly for more detailed guidance on how the rule will work in practice.

The Department for Education published additional guidance in June, but the AELP said employers believe the rule “limits their participation, engagement and appetite to fully embrace apprenticeships”.

Today’s conference, sponsored by City & Guilds, is taking place just two weeks after official government statistics revealed a 61-per-cent slump in apprenticeship starts compared with a year ago.

The AELP said the collapse is due to how the government funds the apprenticeships of smaller employers who don’t pay the levy.

“A disastrous procurement exercise, which had to be scrapped by the incoming minister, and a requirement for small businesses to make a financial contribution towards the cost of the training, have led to huge falls in starts among SMEs across the country, including in the many areas where levy payers don’t operate,” a spokesperson said.

Earlier this month, at the Conservative party conference, Ms Milton admitted that the apprenticeships system would not work “unless there is flexibility in it”, and said she was “flabbergasted” that several big businesses had told her they were unaware of the new reforms.

Mark Dawe

“The skills minister has said that she has heard two different stories about how the reforms are going but encouragingly she has also said that she is very willing to listen to those who are experiencing their impact on the ground,” said AELP boss Mark Dawe.

“Many of these people will be at our conference today and AELP will be calling for urgent action so that providers can work with their local employers to get things moving again.”

In the AELP’s view, the government needs to “remove disincentives for employers to recruit young apprentices, halt the decline in apprenticeship opportunities at levels two and three, guarantee a minimum £1 billion budget for the apprenticeships of non-levy paying SMEs, allow flexibility between on and off the job training, and review the co-investment requirement for non-levy payers”.

And after FE Week revealed the £200 million underspend in the adult education budget this year, the AELP’s chairman Martin Dunford will say in his opening remarks at the conference that whether the AEB is devolved or not, the government, the combined authorities and the LEPs should “start a transition to full commissioning of publicly funded skills programmes”.

Speakers at the autumn conference include Keith Smith from the ESFA, Anthony Chalmers from the DfE, and Chris Jones from Ofsted, among many other sector leaders. They will debate on improving quality, the T-level reforms, overcoming barriers to social mobility and English devolution of skills programmes.

FE Week is media partner and will be reporting live from the conference.