While change is always unsettling, the apprenticeship reforms will do the sector a world of good, says Graham Howe.

Change is unsettling, significant change is scary, and apprenticeships are going through significant change.

It is worrying that the sector is being forced to move to new standards for which the end assessment is unknown, and in many cases there is no body allocated to deliver the assessment – on top of the fact that to date only 15 learners have achieved a new apprenticeship standard.

It is also far from ideal that the funding landscape is not clear: if subcontracting is to eventually end, will providers have sufficient access to direct funding?

There are concerns about the reforms hurting young people on apprenticeships, if employers use the funds to train an existing, more mature workforce.

If subcontracting is to eventually end, will providers have sufficient access to direct funding?

However, this has been the case since Train to Gain replaced the budget for training adults in the workplace, and was itself replaced by apprenticeships in 2009. Providers have used apprenticeship budgets for adult workplace training for several years now, often very successfully, not least improving English and maths for many workers who would previously have avoided these subjects.

So I find it hard to understand why the sector isn’t more positive about the reforms. At last we will be paid properly for the work we do, across all age ranges.

When apprenticeship funding replaced Train to Gain, we had to deliver three extra qualifications for an additional several hundred pounds – unless you could agree a course fee with the employer (where the market rate was often nil, due to employer expectations from Train to Gain and European Social Fund projects). This has without doubt led to unprofitable and poor-quality programmes, so why, when reforms are suggesting higher rates, would we not embrace the change?

We are entering a new landscape where we are paid the same set amount for apprentice learners – irrespective of age – and where larger businesses are often funding this themselves through a levy, which will mean greater employer involvement and buy-in.

I see great opportunity in the reforms, the funding rates, and the new relationships with employers. Though it grabs headlines to question whether apprenticeship funding should be spent on adults, it is an important area of lifelong learning.

As unemployment levels fall, retraining employees for new roles is a perfectly sensible use of employers’ and public funding and it should come as no surprise to see an increase in management apprenticeships.

The announcements this month have allowed prime providers and subcontractors to choose a path that best suits their circumstances, rather than forcing the end of subcontracting. Importantly, it allows market access for those subcontractors wishing to get all (or the majority) of their funding directly, which has previously been too often denied.

The sector responds well to change; my team has been on excellent AELP and ETF workshops to help us prepare.

My only wish would be that awarding bodies were at the forefront, if they are serious about being end-point assessment organisations.

At last we will be paid properly for the work we do

I don’t believe the reforms will see a reduction in 16-18 apprenticeship numbers (though it’s entirely possible it might drop as an overall percentage), as providers will be delivering full workforce-development programmes and will find it difficult to pick and choose learners from any employer.

I have evidence for this; it’s what businesses are telling me, describing their apprenticeship strategy as a mixture of new workforce recruitment and existing employee training.

There are challenges ahead in implementing new delivery models without disadvantaging learners, which are always our priority. However the upside outweighs the downside and I wholeheartedly believe that the future looks bright.


Graham Howe is managing director of the College of Apprenticeship Training


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