Gareth Jones, managing director of In-Comm Training and Business Services, explains why industry needs to be ready for some of the biggest apprenticeships reforms seen in decades.
The world of apprenticeships stands on the verge of its biggest shake-up in more than 20 years and with it comes a whole host of questions for employers in the manufacturing sector.
The apprenticeship levy comes into effect on April 1, 2017 and means that any company with a wage bill of more than £3m will be subject to a 0.5% levy.
Employers – both large and small – will be able to use the money generated to fund apprenticeship training in their organisations and, there has even been rumours that this could apply to working with your supply chain on their skills development to spread the wealth of the pot.
Encouragingly, the apprenticeship remit covers both spectrums of the age scale, meaning you should be able to broaden the skills base of your existing staff if required.
Traditionally, the apprenticeship model is aimed at 16-24 year olds, but it appears that, to help hit the target of 3 million apprentices by 2020, the levy can be spent on up skilling adults as well.
Changes do not stop there. In addition, there is the introduction of apprenticeship vouchers, increased legislation and the arrival of the ‘Trailblazers’ programme.
The latter potentially causes the biggest concern, as I feel it could perpetuate a scenario of price over quality.
As part of the Trailblazer scheme, the apprenticeship framework is going to be redesigned and replaced by standards, meaning every sector has the opportunity to create a ‘standard’ training programme.
This is all well and good, but to create lifelong engineers you need a solid and robust foundation programme that allows the individual to specialise later in their career.
Narrowing the training removes the opportunity to gain the vital competencies. This is especially relevant to SMEs, that tend to need staff to work across different areas of the business.
There is a strong possibility that this change in emphasis will create a scenario where providers flood the market with diluted offers.
Business owners – who are now expected to fund a third of all apprenticeships they embark on – would be forgiven for going down the more cost effective route even though it may leave them exposed at a later date.
In addition, the new Trailblazer standards may not have to be accredited by an awarding body, but will instead have a final independent assessment; this means an apprentice could leave the programme without a recognised accredited qualification.
Payment is also moving into the hands of the employer, meaning training providers may not have a direct contract with the Skills Funding Agency.
This throws up many questions, how will it be policed and how will the training provider manage cash flow when delivering capital intensive training programmes?
It is sure to create another level of unnecessary bureaucracy for companies and, as a result, we have redesigned our training officer role to alleviate a lot of this unnecessary stress.
Change doesn’t need to be a bad thing, but there are still a lot of questions to be answered before we know if the new reforms will deliver the ‘bridge’ to our very real skills gap.