If anybody knows what the future might look like for FE and skills with an apprenticeship levy on the horizon it would be the CITB, which has been operating such a system for half a century, as Steve Radley explains.

Chancellor George Osborne’s Budget yesterday launched a flurry of policy initiatives.

Of course, the headline-grabber was the new living wage.

But for those of us in construction, perhaps the most important policy announcement was the introduction of a new apprenticeships levy on large firms.

At present, the announcement is understandably lacking detail on how it will work.

What we do know is that its scope will be more modest than the levy and grant scheme operated by CITB for the past 50 years.

For example, it will only apply to larger firms and we know that these companies will keep the money in-house, which will then contribute to the forthcoming ‘electronic voucher’ system.

Promoting understanding and buy-in is vital. Few people are happy to give up more money, whether it is their own or their firms’

However, our experience of operating a levy illustrates some key principles which will be critical for ensuring that the policy meets its intended outcomes of supporting more high quality apprenticeships.

These are achieving understanding and buy-in to what the levy is seeking to achieve; complementing other actions to address the barriers to participation in training; and supporting training that is high quality and relevant to employers.

Promoting understanding and buy-in is vital. Few people are happy to give up more money, whether it is their own or their firms’.

But, having recently achieved 100 per cent support across the industry to continue with the levy, we can point to the importance of involving employers in how it is designed and used.

It must also support high quality, relevant training. In operating the construction levy, we have developed a range of forecasting tools to ensure that funding is diverted to where it is needed.

Without good quality forecasting, we run the risk of training people for the wrong jobs — which would be a terrible waste of talent.

The harder nut to crack is ensuring that employers feel that their money funds training by providers who understand their needs.

We know in construction that there is some way to go on this front and across the economy this will be a key issue on which employers and government will need to work together.

Alongside forecasting we need to address one of the biggest barriers to young people participating in training, such as apprenticeships, that will lay the foundations for rewarding careers.

To address this, we have worked with employers and the education sector to develop new ways for young people, and others considering working in the industry, to find out more about the opportunities available.

It will show how to join the industry and also how to progress and build lifelong careers. It is only through showing talented young people that construction can match their ambition that they will be drawn towards choosing apprenticeships.

Our experience with the levy also demonstrates that employers that are being asked to take more ownership of the funding of apprenticeships must also take a corresponding increased role in how they are delivered.

We have heard a lot about the government’s target of 3m new apprenticeship starts over this parliament. We don’t want to see those targets met through low quality apprenticeships, or training that doesn’t match market demand.

They must be suited to the key skill needs of employers — whether they are small and medium-sized enterprises or those paying the proposed new levy. We will only achieve this by involving employers in developing new approaches to deliver these outcomes.

The new Trailblazer apprenticeships are a step in the right direction in building standards based on employer need. The new levy has to take that further in the drive towards ensuring that apprenticeships are truly world-class.

There is much to do to shape this new policy. The experience of construction can provide crucial know-how in ensuring that it will be a success — both for learners and for industry.

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  1. Tanya Robins

    Many small employers who would like to train someone tell me they are unable to do this, as they cannot afford to pay wages to someone who is likely to be unproductive in the first year of a construction apprenticeship. Perhaps more would train if there was a government grant for first year apprentice wages.