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Paying training bills by Direct Debit could be key to apprenticeship levy success

Taking on apprentices has long been off-putting for businesses because many believe that trainees’ courses are expensive and the entire process is time-consuming.

But the new government levy, introduced in April 2017, addresses the first of these issues, offering many employers considerable financial help with training costs. Having an efficient and automated way of paying for courses, such as Direct Debit, should also serve to reassure companies they can afford to support apprenticeships, since payments can be spread out over time, making them more manageable.

For course providers, using Direct Debit via the GoCardless payment system is fast and easy to set up. Training providers can see when money is in their account, which is vital to ensure the continued smooth running of the system. GoCardless provides automatic notifications and updates when payments are received, making it simple to manage submissions to the Individualised Learner Record, the compulsory data collection that the government requires of those providing training in the further education field. This approach to handling payments also avoids credit card issues of cancellation, expiry and high fees, and gives customers the comfort of the Direct Debit Guarantee.

Fast, automated solutions

The problem of time – or the lack of it – is a persistent one for SMEs, in particular. One in four smaller employers told the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) that not having time to devote to apprenticeships was the reason they decided against taking on a new beginner.

Again, the way training is paid for can be a persuasive counter argument to this assumption. GoCardless’s own research has found that users of Direct Debit say the simplicity of setting up the payment system – providing the necessary details at the outset with no need for subsequent updates – is a major bonus. The entire procedure can be completed online in minutes, helping educational bodies get the required admin up and running in good time.

Educators as advisors

So, education providers should act now – if they haven’t already done so – to make paying for courses as flexible and painless as possible for employers, both those already hiring apprentices, and those with plans to do so. Almost half of the companies the FSB surveyed about apprenticeships sought information and guidance from the education provider itself prior to taking on an apprentice, so training bodies should recognise their role as a trusted advisor, as well as purveyors of knowledge and skills.

The best courses offered at the right price, then paid for in a manner that makes employers’ lives easy. That is the core message apprenticeship trainers should be getting across to businesses in light of the newly introduced levy. It’s a formula that – if executed properly – should prove a great success for employers, apprentices, education providers, and the UK economy overall.

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