A newly-published report by the think tank Reform correctly identifies some of the issues raised by the Apprenticeship Levy but is wide of the mark on three counts.
Firstly, it suggests standards are falling across the board because of compromises in quality. This is a disservice to employers and providers such as ourselves who have invested significant resources in delivering successful schemes within the scope of the levy. Rather than being a waste of taxpayers’ money as the report suggests, such programmes can be hugely valuable. For example, we are working with household name customers on apprenticeships that will help to tackle the skills gap in construction and the utilities, and keep the country’s infrastructure working.
Secondly, the report states that the levy is too complex for employers while highlighting the inexperience of some approved providers. I agree that simplifying the scheme would be welcome, but there are many experienced training providers who can help employers navigate the complexities. That will continue to be the case as the levy evolves.
Thirdly, it is suggested that by widening the definition of apprenticeships, we risk losing sight of what makes them work. My discussions with senior HR executives leave me in no doubt that the scheme must be more flexible to make it work for all organisations required to pay into it. More importantly, updating perceptions of what an apprenticeship looks like will go a long way to addressing one of the biggest challenges we have – persuading parents and students that vocational education is at least as valuable as going to university.
Whatever the government does with the levy, the need for well-trained operatives and managers will remain. Training providers such as ourselves will continue to focus on quality teaching, appropriate environments, stretching educational targets and delivering real value.