The Government needs to listen on Apprenticeships reform
As we welcome the new Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills, into his new role, there is no doubt he has a big challenge on his hands. Three million new apprenticeships by 2020. It’s a bold and ambitious target.
Indeed, the stakes are high but I believe Mr Halfon is the best possible choice for this role. He said himself; it’s his “dream job”. The new proposals from the DfE for Apprenticeships Funding in England are very welcome.
A lot of what is proposed is encouraging and it’s very positive that momentum is being maintained.
It is a bold move that the Prime Minister has shifted the apprenticeships brief out of the former Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and into the Department for Education (DfE). I believe situating both Mr Halfon and apprenticeships reform in the DfE will create a more seamless learner journey from statutory education into higher level skills attainment and employment.
However, we must ensure that all great work and engagement with employers through the Trailblazers programme (supported by BIS) is not lost.
Key aspects of the proposals should be welcomed, including
However, the Government also needs to listen, particularly in relation to:
It is not clear whether labour market forecasting for the future across a range of industries and occupational roles has been considered in the setting of funding bands. It appears that lower paid roles (entry level) have been given low funding bands. They also do not appear to recognise the level of training and also support required to develop employability or mindset for work qualities or attitudes required for some roles. For example, the Customer Service Practitioner is on a funding band 6 and the technical skills and knowledge required might be at a lower level than a boat builder role (band 15). However, the level of behaviours e.g. listening, speaking, multitasking skills, managing conflict, will be higher. The funding bands will adversely impact on the ability of providers to deliver currently popular apprenticeships such as customer service, health and social care, business administration, as they may not be cost effective to some. Given a high proportion of 16-18 year olds undertake these apprenticeships, often as entry level roles and with low levels of functional skills or previous educational attainment, so there is a risk that these learners will not receive provision and have less choice.
The Government has rightly simplified the funding methodology, which frankly was a challenge to understand. However, the apparent removal of specific disadvantage uplifts i.e. locations is not helpful for the Government’s wider social mobility agenda. There are proposed uplifts for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) frameworks, so why not do the same to recognise areas of disadvantage in urban and rural areas. This cannot be entirely dealt with through the incentives for employers.
In previous consultations, Catch22 have made it clear that all SMEs should receive the incentives, not just small employers who recruit 16-18 year olds. In fact, age criteria should be expanded for other older learners who maybe in the workforce or wanting to enter the workforce but have low skill levels or previous qualifications.
The new Apprenticeship Standards and the relevant assessment plans offer a great opportunity to raise the bar on quality. However, I have concerns in relation to some assessment plans not offering qualifications and also end point assessments lacking detail. It is critical now that the DfE, SFA, Ofsted and the Institute for Apprenticeships quickly clarify how they will inspect and audit apprenticeship provision after 1st April 2017. There also needs to be a review about how performance will be measured other than narrow success and timely rates, which I believe will not be fit for purpose in the new market place.
In conclusion, to give both our learners and their employers the best chance of success, Mr Halfon really needs to get this right. We are looking for the Government to listen, make more changes to the proposals and to offer greater clarity and guidance to providers and employers. It is clear that a robust apprenticeships strategy, implemented well, will ensure that apprentices can access opportunities aligned to their career aspirations and employers can get the talented workforce they need.
Managing Director Apprenticeships and Employability, Catch22