As attention focuses on the apprenticeship levy, it is important we don’t forget the other major elements of reform that are just as important – not least the programme to develop new apprenticeship standards.
Clear, simple and relevant standards will underpin the quality of the apprenticeship system, so we need to ensure that they encourage world-class delivery and performance.
Following the launch of the Trailblazer project in October 2013, there are now more than 190 completed standards and at least another 160 in development.
Setting the standard
More than 1,300 employers have been involved in the development of the new standards and many have given a lot of time. However, in recent months, employers have expressed some concerns about the process. These include: overlapping standards between job roles; standards focused on large employers which could not be delivered by SMEs; and new standards not being related to the existing industry standards and National Occupational Standards.
Employers are also concerned about the difficulty of developing assessment processes that balance ongoing and end-assessment with flexibility and national consistency.
Many of the end tests could also be expensive and difficult to standardise. This will also make grading the apprenticeships more difficult.
When Trailblazer was launched, the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) was the first organisation to call for an overarching governance process to establish a framework for standards development.
The Department for Business, Information and Skills (Bis) opted for a more flexible approach, which has resulted in some confusion. Bis accepted that there was a need for a governance process, with the creation of the Institute for Apprenticeships. We have recommended that this is set up as soon as possible. One of its key tasks will be to oversee the development of standards and how they are assessed.
Apprenticeships and skills
It is important that the standards being developed reflect the experience and knowledge of standards that are already in place.
WorldSkills UK manages a set of standards that underpin the numerous skills competitions that employers and trainers have created over many years. WorldSkills has developed world-class standards that are the basis for skills competitions in more than 72 countries and regions.
If we get it right, we will be able to use the assessment processes that the skills competitions use to help employers develop their structures.
We also need to ensure that the Institute for Apprenticeships understands the important link between WorldSkills and the apprenticeship standards.
AELP believes that using the WorldSkills UK competition standards would be a better way of inspiring apprentices to develop skills beyond competence. AELP will be working to map the new apprenticeship standards against those in use for WorldSkills. For this international intelligence to be beneficial for employers, there must be a close link with the WorldSkills standards, but also a degree of flexibility so that these can be adapted to reflect changes in global standards.
Stewart Segal is chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers
This is an article from the 12 February edition of TES. This week's TES magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here