No-one can fail to notice that Apprenticeship Levy updates are coming through thick and fast now. Whilst it is good to finally start getting information through, we are still missing the critical detail behind the proposals published by BIS on its website on the 21st April.
Having attended an FE Week event hosted by Gordon Marsden MP, Shadow Skills Minister earlier in the week, it’s clear that he is none the wiser either!
In the opening speech at the event, Marsden made it clear that the Labour party is very much in favour of the Levy. It’s seen as a way of providing funding for Apprenticeships and an opportunity to address quality under the steer of employers who will be more involved than ever before.
The main thrust of Marsden’s speech echoes was what we’ve all been saying: that we need to know the devil behind the detail. Other speakers at the event included Martin Doel (AoC), Gemma Gathercole (Head of Policy – OCR), Mike Cox (AELP) and chair for the afternoon Nick Linford (FE Week).
Mr Marsden went on to express his concerns that that it’s not clear where the figure of 3m Apprenticeship starts has come from or even the £3bn that the Levy is claimed to raise. He also confirmed that no agreement has been reached with devolved governments about what their share of the total £3bn pot will be.
What is crystal clear is that skills providers are going to have to be prepared to react quicker than ever before with the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy.
One view aired at the event was that Apprenticeship Levy is clouding Apprenticeship policy. All conversations with employers, providers and colleges around Apprenticeships are purely focusing on the Levy and primarily what we don’t yet know! Because so much is still unknown, there is an awful lot of speculation, second guessing, and dare I say it, catastrophising.
The biggest issue in my opinion at the moment is the impact on small and medium sized enterprises, who will for the first time have to contribute cash towards the cost of Apprenticeship training. This may be reclaimed in the form of an incentive, and as with some of the Trailblazer Standard funding bands, employers may be able to get back more out of the system than they put in.
As a sector what we cannot afford to do is shy away from this challenge. We are, after all, just 11 months away from the proposed introduction of these changes.
We now need to start having conversations with employers of all shapes and sizes and put plans in place ahead of introduction of the new funding models from 6th April 2017. These conversations may well be challenging and keeping an open mind, and listening to employers’ concerns is crucial to keeping them on board with the Apprenticeships programme.
Some cope better than others with change and there will of course be winners and losers. But the sector’s had plenty of practice at dealing with change: remember the introduction of core skills, key skills, and functional skills? We have to remain mindful of the opportunity to be found in change.
We could stress over timescales but better to pour our energy into shaping conversations with all stakeholders to make them aware of the changes, and to plan a future course of action agreeable to all.
GMLPF Apprenticeships Strategy Manager