Apprenticeship qualifications: no uptake under new rules

No employer groups have taken advantage of the Institute for Apprenticeships’ new rules for including qualifications in apprenticeships, FE Week can reveal.

The IfA announced in February, as part of its reform programme to make the approval of standards “faster and better”, that off-the-job technical qualifications could now be included in apprenticeships – news that was welcomed by many across the sector.

But the first window for employer groups to request a revision to an existing standard following the rule change closed on April 11 without a single bid to add a qualification, a spokesperson for the IfA has said.

One employer group asked for a qualification in a standard that’s still in development, although it’s not clear if it was one that wouldn’t have been allowed under the old rules.

The IfA refused to comment on the lack of applications, claiming that it is “very early days”.

However, Mark Dawe, the chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, suggested a lack of promotion by the IfA could be behind the absence of submissions.
“We simply didn’t know this was happening, so if we didn’t know, would other stakeholders know?” he said.

Paul Eeles, chair of the Federation of Awarding Bodies, expects there to be far more interest in the coming months.

“As this change beds in and employers become more aware of what is now likely to be acceptable when they are submitting their apprenticeship standards, we believe that the inclusion of qualifications will become more commonplace,” he said.

Paul Eeles

He pointed out that the change is “not a move to allow all types of qualifications to be included in apprenticeship standards” which means employer groups “still face restrictions on what they can include” in apprenticeships.

FE Week exclusively revealed in early February that the IfA would overturn previously strict rules that limited the types of qualifications that could be included in apprenticeship standards.
The change was confirmed the following week, as part of the institute’s “faster and better” reform programme.

Qualifications could formerly only be mandated in a standard where it was a regulatory requirement required by a professional body, or such a “must-have in the labour market that an apprentice would be disadvantaged in job applications without it”.

The new rules now allow “an off-the-job technical qualification that does not accredit full occupational competence and would either add breadth to the apprenticeship or provide structure for the off-the-job training” to be made mandatory in an apprenticeship.

And a bar on including qualifications still in development, introduced last summer, was overturned.

These changes applied to both new standards and those still in development.

News of the qualification U-turn was welcomed by many in the sector, including Mr Eeles and John Hyde, the executive chairman of HIT Training.

However, he told FE Week this week that the “mantra” from the IfA was still that “the apprenticeship itself is the qualification and they hope overtime this will accepted”.

Meanwhile, others have argued that the rule change doesn’t go far enough.

Anthony Elgey, the general manager of MP Futures, who has been involved in developing several apprenticeships in the mineral products industry, said the IfA is “still not listening to what employers are asking for”.

“Swathes of employers in all kinds of trailblazers are saying they would like vocational qualifications mandated in standards, especially those which test on-the-job competence,” he said in an FE Week expert piece in February.

The next IfA submission window closes at midnight on May 23.