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The Vision for English Apprenticeships: 2020 or still a bit blurred?

Continuing our regular series of blogs, here Paddy Patterson of Maverish Ltd and founder of Oxfordshire Apprenticeships discusses the recent Government report on the future for Apprenticeships in England...

‘Another year, another government Apprenticeship vision. This time it’s the publishing of the English Apprenticeships: Our 2020 Vision. Nice little bit of word play and the plan itself does the usual in telling us a lot of what we already knew; not much more about some of the things we really want to know about; and a couple of surprises.

Running to some fifty-seven pages of text, it is hard to boil down to a few hundred words so I think I’ll stick to the main things that jumped out at me and subsequent. If you want the full document, it’s here - https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/482754/BIS-15-604-english-apprenticeships-our-2020-vision.pdf

So it’s full steam ahead on the promise of three million new Apprentices by 2020, with employers in the driving seat. There’s even a chapter so-titled. And they’ll be carrying a fair load too on the road there. They’ll be developing Apprenticeship standards (Trailblazers) and leading a new, independent ‘Institute for Apprenticeships’ to oversee the development and delivery of those standards. They’ll also be choosing and paying for their training through a newly-created Digital Apprenticeship Service (being piloted in April 2016) and from February 2016 they can even post their own vacancies on the ‘Find an Apprenticeship’ system. 

Public sector employers will be expected to employ more Apprentices (they employ just 16% of the overall total). Public bodies with more than 250 employees will be expected to employ a minimum of 2.3% Apprentices. We’ll find out this month where that figure came from! And any business bidding for relevant government contracts worth more than £10m (and lasting 12 months+) will find Apprenticeships and skills commitment as part of the competition.

An interesting inclusion is the decision to delay the date when existing Apprenticeship frameworks will cease being funded. This was due to be the end of the 2017/18 academic year but will now be phased out by the end of the parliament. It states that the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy is behind the decision. Many are wondering whether the less than spectacular uptake of Trailblazers (around 300 starts in 9 months) has more to do with it. 

Another inclusion that must be welcomed is the continuation of the £1,500 Apprenticeship Grant for Employers (AGE), which has been paid to around 600 Oxfordshire firms in the past two years. The eligibility criteria remain the same as it is currently meaning that a very large number of our local businesses should remain eligible. Employers are also reminded that from April 2016, they will no longer have to pay National Insurance Contributions for Apprentices under 25.

There’s also reaffirmation of the intention to introduce legislation to ‘protect’ the term ‘Apprenticeship’. This first came out in the Enterprise Bill earlier in the year. I’m just not sure about it. It feels ‘gimmicky’. There, I’ve said it. More on that another time!

And while I admire the intention behind what the Plan has to say about how it will get more young people and small businesses to show an interest in Apprenticeships, my experience is that it overestimates how effective online resources and support actually is to both those groups. I think we’ve proven in Oxfordshire how there’s no substitute for getting out there in front of people. 

And as a final comment, the Plan was not helped by being published on the same day Channel 4 aired its Dispatches programme which investigated alleged abuse of the Apprenticeship system by a national high street retailer in order to reduce its wage bill. It seems inevitable that some will see the public sector targets contained in the Plan as means to a similar end.’

What do you think about the government's vision for English Apprenticeships? What does it mean for businesses and Apprentices in Oxfordshire? Get in touch, we'd love to hear from you.

Tel: 01865 323477, Email: info@oxfordshireapprenticeships.co.uk, Twitter: @OxonApprentice, Facebook: /OxfordshireApprenticeships.