'Still much more to be done on apprenticeships'

A lot has been achieved since the apprenticeship levy was introduced in April – but we still need to raise awareness of the reforms, the co-chairs of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Apprenticeships write

Alan Mak & Catherine McKinnell

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As the co-chairs of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Apprenticeships, we are acutely aware that organisations of all shapes and sizes have in some way been impacted by the apprenticeship reforms introduced earlier this year. In October, we were delighted to be joined by speakers from the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS), National Skills Academy for Health and Centrica to provide their views.

In short, the conclusion of the meeting was: much done, much more to do.

Of course, the levy was the main topic of discussion. From all sides, there was agreement that the levy had led organisations to really think about how they use their training budget to maximum benefit. Joe Billington, from NAS, cited recent research that suggested those who have engaged with the levy have been rewarded with higher-quality applicants and better outcomes.

However, there was also a consensus that there was a lack of awareness among business. A recent survey by the British Chamber of Commerce revealed that 23 per cent of levy-paying firms had no understanding of the apprenticeship levy or did not know how their company would respond to it. The same survey also found that 66 per cent of the non-levy paying firms had not taken any direct action to use the funding available to them. 

'Clearly challenges ahead'

Craige Heaney, from Centrica, said that the variations in the process across devolved administrations presented a challenge to companies that operate across the UK. While Candace Miller, from the National Skills Academy for Health, called for a period of stability, particularly for organisations that have underdeveloped apprenticeship infrastructure. Joe Billington outlined the support that the NAS provides to employers to encourage greater engagement, including the government’s commitment to supporting at least 90 per cent of the costs of apprenticeships for small employers.

On the public-sector target, Joe Billington told the meeting that take-up was “steady.” He said that NAS was very engaged with the process, and outlined the work that it was doing to ensure that public sector bodies meet the challenge in front of them. Candace Miller was concerned that this goal might be a stretch too far without an improvement in the range of apprenticeship frameworks that were available.

The changes to the standards, Craige Heaney outlined, had allowed Centrica to map out a "career path" and to clarify what an apprenticeship is and what it is for. He also explained that investment in structured skills and performance had allowed them to deliver a better service to customers.

There are clearly challenges ahead as businesses and the public sector continue to adapt to the government reforms. The top priority must be to increase awareness of the reforms in order to ensure that those affected feel the highest benefit. But we feel confident that with increased dialogue this can be achieved and, as a group of MPs and peers, the APPG will continue to look at the matter with interest.

Alan Mak MP and Catherine McKinnell MP are the co-chairs of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Apprenticeships

The next meeting of the APPG is on 28 November 2017 from 3.30pm-4.30pm and will be looking at the future world of work. Please contact ApprenticeshipsAPPG@connectpa.co.uk for further information

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