The apprenticeships trial in my department will be closely evaluated so we can set an example across government, writes Gillian Keegan

There has never been a more critical time to invest in new talent and help create more job opportunities.

As a former apprentice, I’ve experienced first-hand the amazing journey an apprenticeship can take you on and, as the lead department responsible for them, I believe it’s time we practice what we preach.

Over the next few months, we intend to fill all entry-level vacancies at the Department for Education and ESFA with apprentices, wherever possible.

This is a trial, between September 1 and December 31, 2020, which will help support more people to do an apprenticeship and gain the skills they need to start a rewarding career.

We have advertised 28 apprenticeship vacancies in exciting roles in policy, business admin and project delivery and we are really pleased with the high level of interest from potential candidates.

We already have a broad apprenticeship offer, with 18 possible standards at level 3 and 4 that managers can choose from and which should be a good fit for the job roles on offer.

This action builds on our already successful apprenticeship programme, which has met its public sector apprenticeship target of 2.3 per cent of the workforce for the past three years. The DfE is in the top three of government departments for recruiting apprentices.

We currently have nearly 400 apprentices at the DfE and ESFA, which is a brilliant start. I’ve heard from lots of managers about the positive impact apprentices have made on their teams.

Many have said to me how they value their apprentices’ enthusiasm, how hard-working and eager to learn they are, and how they bring new ideas and new skills to their work.

To help meet this pledge, the ESFA has also created a new apprenticeship programme, offering new opportunities for four level 4 software developer apprentices.

The successful candidates will be at the heart of developing or managing projects for our Apprenticeship Service, which supports the delivery of millions of pounds of apprenticeship funding.

With such a high demand for software developer skills these apprenticeships will provide an excellent route into an exciting and rewarding career.

As the first government department to trial this approach, we will be carefully evaluating its success to make sure that it works for everyone and so it will set an example across government.

We are the first government department to trial this approach

We will work closely and listen to vacancy managers and apprentices’ feedback and analyse the numbers of apprentices we take on during this period.

We recognise that Covid-19 has had a significant impact on apprentices, employers, training providers and assessment organisations, but we know how important apprenticeships will be in helping make sure more people can get the skills they need to get ahead and employers and our economy need to bounce back.

To help make sure apprenticeships can continue wherever possible, we have introduced a range of flexibilities.

These include encouraging training providers to shift their training offer online so their students can continue their studies and so that providers are paid as normal, as well as making changes to end point assessments.

We have also offered additional financial support to providers through our Provider Relief Schemes so they can continue to deliver high-quality training.

To support employers to take on more apprentices, we are providing them with £2,000 for each new apprentice they hire under 25, and £1,500 for those taken on over the age of 25.

We are also reforming the apprenticeship funding system so that more unspent funds can be used to support apprenticeships in SMEs.

We want to support as many people as possible to start a new and exciting career, and I’m thrilled that our new pledge will build on the progress we have already made and help more people to get ahead.

I hope more departments will follow our lead.