Modern apprenticeships have been through a period of upheaval in recent years with a drive to increase quality of provision and to widen access.
The government have made a number of key policy reforms that have affected the standards and assessment frameworks, as well as the way in which funding is administered. The government's reforms aim to put employers in the driving seat by putting the onus on employers for developing standards, as well as “putting control of government funding for the external training of apprentices in the hands of employers, to empower businesses to act as customers, driving up the quality and relevance of such training.”
The March 2015 Budget announced that: “The government, through the introduction of an Apprenticeship Voucher, will put employers in control of the government funding for the training apprentices need. The new mechanism, which will be developed and tested with employers and providers immediately and fully implemented from 2017, will give employers the purchasing power to have an even greater say in the quality, value for money and relevance of the training that their apprentices receive.
For apprenticeships operating under the old standards, an employer is able to apply for funding to cover the cost of apprenticeship training if the employer is providing the apprentice’s formal study as well as being their employer. However in most cases the training provider receives the funding. Going forward trailblazer organisations are piloting a new funding model, whereby the Government pays £2 for every £1 that the employer invests, up to a maximum cap which has been set for each standard. This model should help to give employers increased buying power and control in sourcing off-the-job training and in being able to negotiate with training providers.
In conjunction with the recently announced Apprenticeship Levy which will encourage larger employers to take on more apprentices, the next few years will see a boom in opportunities for apprenticeship providers and teachers.
These key changes in policy will, however, change the power dynamic between training providers and employers, emphasising the need for closer collaboration. With increased competition amongst training providers, colleges will need to be more agile and flexible in meeting an employer's needs. In a recent interview Stewart Segal, Chief Executive, The Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) commented that “most of the best provision comes when colleges and training providers work together with employers, so it's important that systems are simple and easy to use so that providers are given every opportunity to work with employers who are key to this programme.” For teachers this means a closer working relationship with employers to enable the development of a program that meets the needs of both employers and apprentices.
Colleges and training providers are also starting to collaborate to meet the needs of employers. Stewart Segal noted that “many of the best schemes involve a training provider who might do a lot of the employer engagement, do quite a lot of the work on-site with the employer, and then use a college to deliver block release or other types of training such as functional skills. Those sorts of arrangements work really well. We need to move away from an institutional view of the system and welcome the fact that organisations can be in competition, yet at the same time can collaborate on projects, and what is really important is providing what the employer and apprentice needs to deliver the best program.”
Careers advisers play a crucial part in both helping young learners to make an informed choice about whether to do an apprenticeship, and in promoting the benefits of apprenticeships. Ms Coupland, Head of the Department for Business, Skills and Innovation (BIS) and Department for Education's (DfE) apprenticeship unit made it clear in her 'Ten Point Plan' that good careers advice and guidance is needed so “people are able to hear about apprenticeships and get the right information to make the right choices”. She said that government will be working with enterprise advisers to further spread the messages about the benefits of apprenticeships.