Six ways to make the apprenticeship levy work harder

With apprenticeship levy reform a likely consequence of any political outcome of the current turmoil, Jill Whittaker sets out how to make the system more efficient

With apprenticeship levy reform a likely consequence of any political outcome of the current turmoil, Jill Whittaker sets out how to make the system more efficient

22 Oct 2022, 5:00

Our new government, already on its second chancellor, is now looking to make urgent public sector efficiencies. Meanwhile, the opposition are preparing to present themselves as a government in waiting. For different reasons, both sides will be keen to look at levy reforms, so while the skills minister and her shadow are in listening mode, here are my top six asks:

A modular model

Recently, the employers we work with in adult health and social care have been asking about modular programmes, like the proven model for Open University.

It would be easy to do this for apprenticeship standards. Apprentices could then better fit their modules in around their (often complicated) work and personal lives, and attain individually assessed modules to build towards a complete apprenticeship over an extended period.

This would promote inclusion and social justice for those who would otherwise be unable to access a full programme and be really helpful for short-handed employers struggling to commit to the necessary off-job training for extended periods.

Responsive funding

At a recent HIT employer forum, we asked our employer partners whether they would find it helpful to have irregular, non-linear, draw down of the levy to respond to the needs for up-front training, seasonal capacity issues and demands, and learner availability. They all said ‘yes’.

In the case of front loading, this would help employers to get learners up to speed faster and allow an extended period over which those learners would be able to embed and practice their learning. Where we have piloted this, we have found that learner engagement improves as there is greater involvement in their programme from an earlier stage.

Top-up training

Currently, if a potential apprentice has already completed over 50 per cent of the apprenticeship knowledge, skills and behaviours, they cannot access the apprenticeship. This is frequently a bar to further development.

Let’s extend the levy to support top-up training to build existing skills into a full apprenticeship. This would resolve accessibility to apprenticeships for partially skilled people, and again promote inclusion and social mobility through a complete, fully assessed programme of learning with transferable skills.

Bitesize learning

Sitting on the CBI’s south east council, I know the organisation has strong support from its members for opening up of the apprenticeship levy to smaller pockets of learning. Working on the principle that apprenticeship standards were developed by employers for specific roles, we can argue that all the learning for each role is already contained within apprenticeships.

Further, the standards are broken down into what is effectively a matrix with skills, knowledge and behaviour as column headers and occupational duties as line topics. It follows that any element of any line or column can be delivered in bite-sized chunks.

Allowing these bite-sized elements to be delivered through the apprenticeship levy, whether eventually leading to a full apprenticeship or not, would meet the demands of the CBI and their members without needing new programmes, systems, providers or contracting. Everyone would gain from this approach, and in particular learners if this was combined with the other suggestions above.

T level transition

The DfE T levels team is beginning to recognise that some students will need extra workplace support to become fully competent after they complete their programme. In the case of the culinary T level, it is difficult to see how an 18-year-old could possibly go straight from school into a chef de partie role in the same way as someone who has studied for a workplace apprenticeship. There may be equivalence of knowledge, but their skills and behaviours will almost certainly need extra attention. Flexibility in the levy to support such learners to top up their T level to an apprenticeship would benefit businesses and individuals alike.

Functional skills

Last but certainly not least, it makes sense to allow the levy to support essential skills development in English, Maths and ICT. These are currently significantly underfunded for apprentices, and more support is needed.

Toby Perkins nodded to this at the Labour party conference. Yes please, Toby!

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