With the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy being just round the corner, Stewart Segal reflects on the state of the Education Sector. Stewart Segal is our director of strategy, policy and funding here at 3aaa Apprenticeships and is a former chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers.
There are just a few weeks to go before we know the outcome of the Government’s procurement exercise for contracts to deliver Apprenticeships to non-levy employers, so it seems a good time to take a step back and reflect on where we are. The Richard Review was published in November 2012, which seems a long time ago. Most of us around at the time understood some of the principles that sat behind the report, such as creating sustainable funding, simplifying the administration and increasing the involvement of employers in driving the system, rather than the Government. The panel clearly didn’t understand the detail of how the system worked and therefore came up with some recommendations that would never work.
I joined the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) the year after the Richard Review was published, and most people said it was a risky decision as it looked like Providers were being managed out of the system and the Government wanted to deal with and fund employers directly. Those of us who had been involved for many years knew that it was the strong partnership between employers, government and training providers like Aspire Achieve Advance (3aaa Apprenticeships) that would make the system work. 3aaa Apprenticeships work with over 3,000 employers at any one time, most of whom are small- or medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and would not have recruited Apprentices unless they received the support that was given by the Government.
Only now are some people within Government accepting that Training Providers need to be involved in the decision-making. Nobody would question that employers must drive the system, but more and more people accept that Training Providers, Awarding Bodies and Professional Bodies all have a role to play in delivering high-quality Apprenticeships. The move towards employer involvement, the introduction of a new funding mechanism, The Apprenticeship Levy and the updating of the curriculum through introducing new Apprenticeship Standards are all positive steps forward. We now have a situation where almost every large employer and an increasing number of SMEs want to get involved in apprenticeships, and young people and their parents now see an Apprenticeship as a real alternative to a university degree.
‘We are almost there’
As you would expect, it is not all good news. Along the way, the Government has made some decisions that have not helped this transition. The process for developing new Standards should have been more structured and the End-Point Assessments should have been agreed before releasing the Apprenticeship Standards.
Funding continues to be an issue, with negotiated prices and variable contributions that will create market pressures and complexities. We always recommended a more structured approach with single rates and fixed contributions.
Contracting for non-levy employers is another area where the Government is about to create unnecessary turmoil for employers, Apprentices and providers. Its £5 million cap on contracts will mean that many Apprentices and SMEs will not be able to work with their Training Provider of choice.
What was needed? A transition phase from contracts to open-market decisions based on the Digital Apprenticeship System. Instead, there is likely to be a lot of change in contracts over a very short period. With a constructive debate, we will find a way through.
The overall position for work-based training, Apprenticeships and the very welcome strategic partnerships between employers and their chosen Training Provider is almost there.
If the Government welcomes and encourages the positive input from Training Providers and other sector stakeholders, we can reach a point soon where Apprenticeship Programmes make the fundamental impact on people’s opportunity to develop at work and the productivity of the UK that I would like.
If you would like any more information on the Apprenticeship Reforms please contact me directly at Stewartsegal@3aaa.co.uk or alternatively you can contact our Apprenticeship Levy Management Team on 0330 124 3224 or at firstname.lastname@example.org