Having been to various events and held many meetings over the last few weeks it's time to share some of the frightening comments and positive experiences I've had around the apprenticeship levy from both training providers and employers. Hopefully this helps inform some of your thinking and planning now we're in apprenticeship levy land.
It's great to see employers engaging with training providers to discuss how the apprenticeship levy can benefit their business. Those proactive and pro-people development employers are asking critical questions such as:
- How can the apprenticeship levy help deliver our strategic objectives? A critical question in my view and one which, if the apprenticeship levy is being put to its best use, must be answered before you engage in any apprenticeship delivery using your levy funds.
- How can the levy support our people development strategy and plans for learning and development? Whatever your people development strategy, explore how apprenticeships and the levy can support it. Do you need to develop a comprehensive learning offer to support succession planning? Do you need to mitigate against the rising costs of the National Living Wage and / or pension contributions? Do you need to improve staff productivity in line with these rising costs?
- How can we engage with the new Apprenticeship Standards to deliver relevant programmes for both new employees and the upskilling of the existing workforce? In my view the new Standards give you greater choice and flexibility as an employer. Whilst learners must be prepared and ready for end-assessment, their journey to this point has much greater flexibility than with the apprenticeship frameworks that are gradually being phased out. Ask you training provider are they delivering apprenticeship frameworks or apprenticeship standards. If in doubt about what exists simply ‘Google’ Apprenticeship Standards approved for delivery and you will find what is currently available.
- As a smaller apprenticeship levy payer how do we find the resource to manage our apprenticeship service account? Should we be engaging with training providers to manage our entire apprenticeship levy budget? For many employers the value of their levy contributions won’t allow a full-time resource to manage it. Why not choose a trusted training provider to support you on this. You can set user permissions on your account, retain overall control but pass much of the administrative burden to a trusted partner. You should not pay for this either directly or indirectly (if the training provider tries to charge management fees to other providers). It should be seen as good account management on a training providers part.
- How does our existing Learning and Development offer fit within the new apprenticeship standards and 'levy' land? My response again is similar to above. Work with a trusted provider and do not pay consultants who will charge you hefty fees.
- We've never delivered apprenticeships. Where do we begin? Don’t panic. You have plenty of time in the early stages to decide upon what your strategy is. Don’t be persuaded that you have to spent it all from day one. Speak to other employers, ask for referrals to training providers that they know and take your time to develop a coherent plan that maximises your return on your levy investment.
From our conversations with employers ranging from dynamic hotels groups new to apprenticeships to the motor industry, there is lots of positive communication around the apprenticeship levy. However, a word of caution must also be highlighted here...
We've heard some frightening comments. All of which I promise you are true.
- Can you run programmes at weekends as we don't want to give people 15 extra days holiday to attend workshops during the day? This is wrong on so many levels: where do I start! Legally, apprenticeships require paid off the job time for learning. (20% to be precise). Ethically, no employer, in my opinion should be expecting employees to give up their own time, unpaid to improve their skills that will in turn benefit the employer! People development should be valued.
- How much money will we get back if we use you to deliver our apprenticeship programme? Answer….nothing! There are significant returns for investing in apprenticeships and you should be asking what added value will you as a training provider bring to our apprenticeship programmes. It’s an investment and employers should see it as such and training providers should value their deliver as such. Legitimate employer delivery as a subcontractor is possible; but must follow strict funding rules.
- We won't have much levy fund left after we've paid the wages of the apprentices from it. You cannot pay apprentices wages with your levy.
- Don't expect to get any benefit from employing an apprentice in the first 6 months. They will just be a cost to your business. We heard this from a training provider last week! Employing apprentices brings immense value to your business from day one, if planned and managed properly. Other staff can become more productive, staff retention can improve and you’d be amazed how much people can achieve when taught, challenged and supported properly.
- You've got a levy bill of £1,000,000. Great just take on 300 apprentices and it will all be spent. You can do this as an employer but I would ask you a different question. Would you normally consider investing £1 million on training staff in those roles or, if I gave you £1 million to invest in learning & development, how would you spend it? As an employer it is your money, so spend it wisely and to get a return. Do not just spend it for the sake of it.
There's been a lot of talk about the apprenticeship levy, lots of discussion on who did and didn't get on to the register, will employers spend the money, 20% off the job learning and when will we hear about the results of the ITT?
All I know is that for the first time in what seems like a long time a significantly greater number of employers are engaging with us to discuss how apprenticeships and learning and development can help deliver their strategic plans. This can only be a good thing.
Discussions with employers about developing bespoke solutions and apprenticeship programmes is good for business, good for young people and good for the further education sector. Quality and true employer responsiveness will ultimately prevail in this newly reformed world.
Will it be a smooth ride? Probably not. Will things go wrong with the new system? Possibly. Will we have challenges and hurdles to overcome? Yes. Will it challenge us as a sector and employers to improve? Hopefully yes. Will it be fun? Most definitely.
We've booked our tickets for 'levy' land and we're excited to be working with employers that have done so too. Why not join us on this exciting roller coaster.