The 20% off-the-job rule will make apprenticeships economically unviable

If employers have to let apprentices out one day a week as the SFA wants, the whole system may grind to a halt, says Chris Taylor

The Skills Funding Agency has confirmed its definition of off-the-job requirements for apprenticeships. Apprentices must spend 20 per cent of their contracted work hours, the equivalent of one day per week, off the job to meet funding rules.

This has thrown apprenticeships in the UK into turmoil and raises questions about the viability of delivery and take-up by providers, colleges and employers.

This requirement will have three unhelpful results:


Providers and colleges will be unable to deliver apprenticeships which are now economically unviable.


Employers won’t engage in the levy due to its burden on staffing and resources, and will pay it as a tax.


The government will not reach its three million apprenticeship target.


Apprenticeship funding simply does not pay enough to train apprentices one day per week for at least a year, excluding maths and English. Perhaps the SFA should have applied functional skills in maths before it took this decision: customer service level two at £1,500, minus 20 per cent for end assessment, equals £1,300. Divide this by 46 weeks, and then again by five to represent one day in five means £28 per day. Divide this by seven hours comes out at £4 per hour. Which college or training provider can deliver training at £4 per hour per person? This excludes observations and everything else required to deliver an apprenticeship which funding must provide for – and forget about quality delivery.

This decision will have a real impact on employers and will reduce productivity and operations. There will be additional costs for travel and substance, and not many employers can lose employees for one fifth of their contracted hours for a year or more plus holidays.

In the worst case, some employers and providers may withdraw from apprenticeships altogether

Using the apprenticeship levy to upskill existing employees is not now an option for most employers and providers across the UK. The programme will now only suit traditional technical and trade apprenticeships, and employers in those sectors which use day/block release.

Many providers and colleges which did not make it onto the register of accredited training providers may now be glad they were unsuccessful, while employers may want to terminate programmes with providers. Self-delivery employers will now walk away and just pay the levy as an additional tax, a simpler option that’ll prove less costly to employers than training and employing apprentices.

Some employers and providers may withdraw from apprenticeships altogether, seeing them as simply too unworkable and risky.

This  requirement needs to be redefined as soon as possible by the SFA to avoid disaster. It needs to ensure apprenticeships are delivered using methods and funding rules which employers want in a technological, post-Brexit economy, especially as many will be directly paying for their apprenticeships sooner rather than later.


Chris Taylor is director of UK Levy Limited

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  1. Like the man said, a disaster and which bureaucratic plonker conjured this one up at the last minute.
    For many years, employers were telling me that they cannot afford to lose ‘any’ employee for a day per week, particularly to a college with a questionable training agenda for their needs, neither could would-be apprentices lose a days pay. As with so many previous decisions and with so much at stake, all ‘that’ someone had to do was ask almost anyone in the sector and particularly almost any employer or would-be apprentice. Oh Dear.

    • Irritated from Essex

      Why would an apprentice lose a day’s pay? The off-the-job training is paid.
      And, in response to your “last minute” bureaucracy statement, look at the SASE and the pre-May rules for standards.
      Apprenticeships are not sausage machines they are for training new entrants or upskilling existing staff. If employers do not want to engage, don’t work with them! There are plenty more fish in the sea, who value proper L&D.
      You’ll most likely find that they’re the most efficient and profitable too.
      Oh, and in response to the author, the SFA didn’t order the dictact, it would have come from higher up in the food chain…

  2. Bob Watmore

    I agree with some of these views, but the general perspective is viewed in the short term of the apprenticeship delivery period. The challenge is to invest and apply rigour to ensure a lifetimes value and payback to the employer and our countries economic value through the human capital. We forget that the last 40 years has seen us drift into an environment where training and vocational education are a business commodity – I’m not sure they should be allowed to be when the talent pipeline is so central to UK economic survival/success. Also vocational pathways are primary to social mobility opportunities and have always been so since the ‘craft’ origins of apprenticeships.

  3. If the problem is the skills gap,which is why the emoyers want apprentices trained up in the first place-where are they going to find the people to cover them for this off the jobtraining.
    The logistics are impossible,the financial viability is probably secondary but as the man says -its easier to pat the tax and get on with their business.
    Sfa don’t know about delivery and that’s key. If the Employers who wrote the standards had known about this we would be in a totally different place.
    Small providers will be going down now as well as the big ones we have seen recently

  4. Jeremy Rabinovitch

    I agree. In the construction sector, we find it difficult enough to get young people on to apprenticeships and the sub-contractors do not like the idea of having to pay someone for a day a week when they are not there and this has a baring on people taking apprentices on.

  5. Having an apprentice is not, or shouldn’t be, just a way of getting cheap labour. It is supposed to be a way of training entrants into your business to have the skills and knowledge that you, as an employer, require. Oddly Ofsted and the SFA have always had an expectation that there is significant off-the-job training, with the real debate being where that takes place. Several inspection reports have highlighted where training cannot be evidenced and the SFA reserve the right to take money back in such cases. An apprenticeship is not simply having a job, it has always supposed to have included real training. How on earth will apprentices be expected to pass end tests without sufficient training to do so? Some of the comments point to working with employers who want cheap labour. When I do improvement work and talk to employers I often find ones who have been apprentices themselves and want staff who are properly trained, and that includes carpentry, plastering, motor vehicle, childcare, hairdressing and many other areas. If a college or training provider wants to be outstanding they will work with such employers. SASE has always had a MINIMUM requirement for 280 hours evidenced training, 100 hours of which (again minimum) had to be off-the-job. What on earth goes into the employer agreements and ILPs where employers are of the reluctant to allow paid training types?

    • The problem is not “Off the Job Training” but the stipulated requirement of 1 x day per week training by the SFA. The funding does not allow for this level of training and for observations etc. 1 x day per week is OK for new Apprentices learning a trade or technical qualification but not for up skilling existing employees. Can a college or training provider or employer deliver an Apprenticeship for an existing employee aged 24 in customer service for £1,500 and provide 1 x day training for 7.5 hrs per day for a whole year as well as observations and all the other elements required for a framework and deliver this with quality? 1 x day per week per apprentice will often exceed GLH’s and so what are they going to be doing the rest of the time as this stipulation requires 1 x day per week only on apprenticeship framework learning (excluding functional skills)
      Are FE Colleges going to open 52 x weeks of the year to deliver 1 x day per week?
      Are employers going to allow existing employees 1 x day off to train each week? How can an airline allow cabin crew 1 x day per week, care home workers 1 x day per week, NHS/hospital staff 1 x day per week etc ? Who is going to cover and pay for cover for these workers?
      There simply is not enough funding to deliver apprenticeships with this stipulation and employers cannot loose staff for 1 x whole day per week plus holidays
      Good luck to colleges and training providers who try to deliver apprenticeships under the new funding rules. I am sure many providers will walk away or cherry pick employers and frameworks and many more will go bust trying to deliver an unworkable programme. Only top banded frameworks will now be delivered.
      With the Apprenticeship Levy starting next week the SFA needs to act fast as their 20 % off the job training funding rule will scupper the whole programme before it has even been launched

    • Jake Tween

      I couldn’t agree more, Phil. Employers must (and do) recognise the value of training and development for all staff – not just apprentices. The truth is the 20% thing is a bit of a storm in a teacup. The SFA guidance is very clear that the 20% does not all have to be outside of the apprentice’s workplace. In actual fact, much of this activity is probably naturally occurring. The trick is for employers to work with their training provider to plan our delivery and gather evidence on what meets the ‘off-the-job’ criteria. Para 32 of the provider funding rules sets this out quite clearly

      It’s also worth noting that the £1,500 for L2 Customer Service is for the framework, which does not have an end-point assessment. The replacement standard, which does have an end point assessment, is funded at £4,000 per apprentice. I think FE Week have a responsibility to publish accurate information in what is already a very confusing landscape for employers.

  6. Richard Atkinson

    The issue facing the Training Levy is that the SFA have pitched the whole programme at the taking on of 16-18 apprentices rather than the real needs of employers which is to upskill its existing staff. Particularly those who may not have succeeded in formal education. It is appropriate for a 16-18 apprenticeship to have a day a week in training as most companies will accept that they are not fully productive from day one, however the same cannot be said for a 24 plus adult who may have been with an employer for a number of years. This is particularly true of those workers in sectors that where margins are already tight such as the care and facilities management where a worker taking a day off would be totally unacceptable. The SFA could get themselves out of this hole by simply accepting the training needs of different worker/ age groups and industry sectors does not fit a one size only response. They might even want to go further and accept that other training streams can also be funded by the Levy against a strict accreditation requirement by companies to meet the needs of their staff. It important to remind the SFA that the Training Levy is not their money but the employers that pay into it the first place

  7. Jo Fowler

    Colleges have delivered training at £4 per hour per learner since the study programme was introduced, sometimes less if the contribution to college overheads is more than 40% or the learner is over the age of 18. The maths is simple hence the requirement for minimum class sizes of 15

  8. John Nash

    “Perhaps the SFA should have applied functional skills in maths before it took this decision”.

    There is a significant irony in this statement as the maths included in this article is incorrect – £1,500 minus 20% is not £1,300, the maths then gets slowly worse from there.

    “Divide this by 46 weeks, and then again by five to represent one day in five means £28 per day”.

    Again incorrect. £1,300/46= £28.26/5= £5.65.

    All of this is based on £1,500 for the Level 2 Customer Service standard, which again is incorrect.

    FE Week has a responsibility as a prominent FE publication to ensure the information it uses is accurate, especially given that the purpose of the article seems to be to stir-up controversy and a degree of outrage.
    it fundamentally undermines the actual issues at hand and misleads readers.

  9. Richard Atkinson

    The sight of people arguing over figures in this situation is akin to watching bald men fighting over a comb. The fact remains that the training levy should be about the up-skilling primarily of existing staff. There is not enough 16-18 year old candidates available without creating ever more costs to a business. The pressing need for British Industry going into the next two years is the productivity gap for British workers v their European and world competitors.The SFA have created a one size fits all that will make it virtually impossible for many in the 24+ industry sectors that will operationally struggle to make it work.These are people who have often failed to receive effective education opportunities over most of their lives.Its very laudable that that training should fit the highest standards but there needs to some operational and personal reality if there is to be the success that the government wants for the Levy

  10. FE Lecturer

    I think the government are keen to AVOID the situations where:

    (1) large employers create ficticious apprenticeships for exisiting employees just to avoid paying the levy. e.g. existing shelf staker becomes a stock replacement apprentice with only farcical training and education which just formalises what they already know – funded by the taxpayer.
    (2) Smaller companies create ficticious apprenticeships to claim government cash and employ cheap labour, with the apprentice not developing knowledge and gaining very few skills.
    An apprenticeship should be used to bring in new people who will then recieve training and education that allows them, on completion, to replace staff that leave or retire or to allow a company to grow its workforce and develop.
    If an “apprentice” has skills that the company cannot do without for one day a week then they are probably not doing a real apprenticeship; they are an employee who should be doing appropriate CPD, paid for by the company who wishes to develop them.