ESFA to finally invite small employers and providers to trial apprenticeship system

The Education and Skills Funding Agency is preparing to invite non-levy employers and providers to test its digital apprenticeship system.

The agency will introduce this change over a “transition period” through an “expressions of interest phase”, with those chosen commencing the trial from summer 2019.

Currently, only big employers with an annual total pay bill of over £3 million who pay the levy can use the online apprenticeship service to access training funds generated through the policy.

It will lead to increased workforce productivity among SMEs

Small employers were originally expected to be added to the service in April 2019, but was delayed for another year to “ensure a more gradual transition”.

After the delay was announced in August 2018 the ESFA extended contracts for providers delivering training for small employers until March 2020, which is how non-levy-payers train up their apprentices.

But as FE Week revealed in February, training providers’ non-levy funding is running dry and some have even had to turn apprentices away. Many fear the same will happen in 2019/20 as their allocations will not be big enough to meet demand.

“Moving non-levy employers onto the apprenticeship service will give small and medium sized businesses a greater choice of quality training providers, and the opportunity to have more control over apprenticeship training decisions for their business,” Eileen Milner (pictured), the chief executive of the ESFA, said today.

“Employers understand the needs of their sector and know better than anyone about how best to use their apprenticeship funding.

“By working with smaller employers, the ESFA will get insight into the skills needs of a wider range of businesses which will help us to remove barriers employers have when recruiting an apprentice.”

Association of Employment and Learning Providers chief executive Mark Dawe said this is a “critical and welcome advance in the reform of apprenticeships”.

“By releasing all employers and providers from the previous contracting system, the government is enabling employers to exercise genuine choice over the apprenticeships that they wish to offer and any registered provider needed to support the training,” he added.

“It will lead to increased workforce productivity among SMEs and make a real difference to social mobility with more apprenticeship opportunities available to young people across the country.”

And Sir Gerry Berragan, chief executive of the Insitute for Apprenticeships, said he also welcomed the move that will “support small and medium sized enterprises towards taking on more apprentices”.

During the transition period, more details of which will be released “shortly”, the ESFA will continue to run contracts with providers who have won provision through procurements for apprenticeship starts with non-levy employers.

“This will give the ESFA time to create the right service functionality to meet employer needs,” the agency said.

Through the apprenticeship service employers can: manage their apprenticeship funding, select a suitable apprenticeship standard and an end-point assessment organisation, as well as advertise an apprenticeship and select a suitable provider to deliver their apprenticeship training.

They can also give real-time feedback on the quality of training provision they receive, have control over the amount of apprenticeship funding paid to their training provider on their behalf, and provide government with apprenticeship “demand data to ensure an valuable apprenticeship market place”.