Almost three quarters of training providers are unhappy with the amount of non-levy apprenticeship funding available, claiming it is “insufficient” to meet demand from small businesses.
A new AELP survey, published on the second day of its national conference in London, reveals that the apprenticeship money set aside for SMEs this year is vastly lacking.
The government has allocated up to £650 million for the 15 months between this January and the end of next March – a major fall on the £1 billion that was available to small businesses in the previous 12-month period.
And in order to get their hands on a portion of this year’s cash, providers had to endure a shambolic procurement process – which saw some defunct providers winning contracts while ‘outstanding’ ones missed out. Several small providers simply went out of business.
None of these findings come as any surprise
Seventy-three per cent of the 246 providers who responded to AELP’s survey complained the £650 million fund is “insufficient”.
There are several other serious issues to resolve in the roll-out of the government’s apprenticeship reforms.
Seventy-seven per cent still believe that employers are struggling to understand and engage with the new apprenticeship system.
Meanwhile, 72 per cent said there are not enough new apprenticeship standards in place, and 82 per cent do not think there are enough end-point assessment programmes available.
The Institute for Apprenticeships introduced its “faster and better” process for approving standards earlier this year but AELP’s survey reveals that 60 per cent of providers are still doing the bulk of their training under the old apprenticeship frameworks.
Only 27 per cent have been able to move the majority of their provision to standards.
Just 11 per cent of respondents said the apprenticeship reforms are generally going well.
“None of these findings come as any surprise as we’ve been feeding back similar anecdotal evidence for months from regional meetings to ministers and officials on why apprenticeship starts have been dropping so sharply,” said AELP boss Mark Dawe.
“But while AELP remains supportive of the apprenticeship policy, the levy itself and standards, the survey results do underline the sheer scale of the challenges and the urgent need to make changes to the way that the apprenticeship reforms have been introduced.”
Seeing these concerns borne out in black and white goes “a long way” to explain why the latest official set of apprenticeship start numbers are over 50 per cent down on a year ago, AELP believes.
Over half of providers are changing how they deliver apprenticeships in response to the reforms.
Fifty-five per cent are moving their provision across to a different sector or occupational area, while 53 per cent are seeing their delivery switch over more to the large levy-paying employers.
Additionally, 42 per cent say the reforms are prompting them to run more higher-level apprenticeship programmes in response to employer demand.
Mr Dawe said the switch to higher-level apprenticeships is “good for the programme’s reputation, but we have to get the balance of provision right from level two to levels six and seven”.
“As the recent AELP policy submission showed, it’s vital for a post-Brexit economy and social mobility that lower level provision isn’t abandoned and this means getting the way it’s funded right,” he added.
“This is why AELP is calling for an immediate suspension of employer contributions for 16- to 24-year-old apprentices at levels two and three by non-levy payers or those employers that exceed their levy.”
AELP has over 900 members who serve 380,000 employers across the country.