Apprenticeship funding rules require that we demonstrate our negotiations. Lucy Ottewell-Key outlines the core principles to consider

The new apprenticeship world can be confusing and unfamiliar to the education sector. Negotiate? How? What does it mean to be in a commercial and competitive market?

What indicators, funding rules, features, benefits and unique selling points support strong negotiation? How do you differentiate from another provider? Why would an employer pay more for your provision than someone else’s? Providers need to dive deep into strategies, training, processes and procedures to support business growth, while manoeuvring within complex funding rules and providing an outstanding service.

Not only do we need to negotiate, we need to prove we have done so.

Apprenticeship funding rules state that providers must collect evidence to prove negotiation to employers, ESFA, Ofsted and internal compliance teams.

Negotiation is an art rather than a science. Core principles to consider:

1. Be knowledgeable and prepare. You must understand and have detailed knowledge of apprenticeships, the funding and technical guidance. What is an apprenticeship? What are the roles and responsibilities of each party? What is your offer, your curriculum plan, how do you deliver it? What can be bespoke? What is standard? Does the employer understand off-the-job and EPA? Are your team prepared to “sell”? Have they had suitable training?

2. Determine your desired outcome before you start. Do your research.

Does your offer and curriculum meet their needs? How can you support the employer to navigate apprenticeships?

3. Build rapport. In many cases people buy from people, not companies, so building a rapport is the first step to sustainable relationships.

4. Understand your worth. You are a quality provider that offers outstanding apprenticeships and amazing customer service. Prove it, live it and shout about it!

5. Listen. You need to understand what that business needs from their apprenticeship programmes. Go for a tour, speak to staff!

6. Complete negotiations feeling it is a good deal for both sides.

Apprenticeships are about supporting individuals to progress into their chosen careers and reducing skills gaps.

Feel sure that you have made a positive impact on a business, which will, in turn, support an individual.

7. If you can’t, stay professional and walk away. If it does not fit with your ethos, maybe that business is not for you.

Why would an employer pay more for your provision than someone else’s?

One way in which apprenticeship negotiation differs from other products and services is that we have an added layer of negotiation: prior learning. The interesting point to note with prior learning adjustments is that until you have completed a recruitment process, you cannot confirm the price.

This process involves stages such as advice and guidance, initial assessments, checking prior qualifications and ensuring the employer and training provider feel the candidate is suitable for the apprenticeship. Providers may have a core pricing plan based on the quality of provision and the fundable elements of the programme, but until you have a potential individual, you are a little stuck.

Funding guidance states that all knowledge, skills and behaviours set out in the standard should be considered when reviewing prior learning.

How can you prove to an auditor or an inspector that you and the employer are confident that public money is not being used to fund knowledge, skills or behaviours that individual already has? Can the apprenticeship meet minimum requirements, such as duration or off-the-job?

In conclusion, apprenticeship price negotiation is a complex, two-stage process. First of all, why pick you when a number of other providers are knocking at the door? And secondly, can you, as a provider, ensure that the candidate is appropriate? The implications for not getting this right are pretty serious.

Good luck and get negotiating!