92% of levy-paying organisations agree with the apprenticeship levy in principle, according to an Open University report, but 43% would like it to be modified to better suit businesses’ needs.
The problems holding employers back from using their levy tend to fall into a few common categories: suitability, flexibility, and complexity.
However, with media commentary largely focused on excoriating the government for failing to change levy policies, it’s often overlooked that solutions for these problems already exist – solutions that don’t require government intervention.
Apprenticeships 2.0: new, improved and wide-ranging
According to the OU report, the most significant issue raised by businesses is the availability and flexibility of suitable programmes. However, our experience shows that many business leaders aren’t aware that apprenticeships have changed radically in recent years.
Apprenticeships are no longer just for the ‘stereotypical’ apprentice, young new starts in entry-level roles. Apprentices can be:
- Any age
- Of any education and experience level
- Current staff as well as new starts
- In traditional ‘office job’ professions such as HR, finance, sales, marketing and law
- In entry-level, management, or senior roles – there are even MBA apprenticeship programmes for C-suite executives
Apprenticeships are truly broad in scope and provision – there are currently apprentices in more than 1500 job roles across 170 industries in the UK.
A new generation of flexible, digital-first training providers
Since the levy was introduced a year ago, the number of registered apprenticeship training providers has quadrupled to more than 2500. With new providers comes new solutions: training providers who have listened to businesses’ problems with the levy and developed training solutions to solve them.
A key issue contributing to the lack of flexibility within apprenticeships is the 20% off-the-job training requirement. 76% of business leaders surveyed by FE Week agreed that that rule must be modified, stating that they can’t afford to have an employee out of the office one day per week.
Digital-first apprenticeship training tackles this issue. Rather than the traditional ‘day release’ method of sending apprentices to a local college once a week, apprentices on digital-first programmes learn online from their office. They can spread their 20% learning into manageable chunks, studying more or less each day and week depending on their workload.
This keeps apprentices available in the office to deal with queries or unexpected problems – particularly vital for more senior roles – and puts control back in the hands of individual employers and apprentices, rather than forcing them to bend their schedule to an externally-dictated training timetable.
This flexibility is vital, as it doesn’t seem likely that the 20% mandate will be reduced. Apprenticeship Minister Anne Milton has named it a ‘protected characteristic’, stating that ‘twenty per cent is really important, because an apprenticeship is about earning while you’re learning […] if you don’t have time off from the job you’re not learning anything.’
Free apprenticeship guidance and consultancy
Another key issue for businesses is the difficulty of understanding and managing their apprenticeship programmes, particularly if the organisation has never employed apprentices before. According to a recent IoD poll, only a third of business leaders feel they truly understand the levy, and CIPD found that 22% of employers don’t know whether they’re paying the levy or not.
Are you one of the 22%? If your gross pay bill totals more than £3 million, you’re paying.
To fill the knowledge gap, some training providers offer more than just apprenticeship training. From an initial consultation to answer questions and explain the process in detail, to ongoing guidance and support in joining the Apprenticeships Service, accessing your fund, managing apprentices and more, some training providers offer an end-to-end support service.
While you may feel unprepared contacting a training provider with limited knowledge of apprenticeships, the complexity of the levy means that this is extremely common. Training providers are well-prepared and well-used to answering even the most basic questions, and don’t expect employers or HR professionals to be au fait with the rules.
This means that you don’t need to wait until you have all the facts in place to take the first step towards using your levy – and that’s no small benefit. With only a year to go until unused apprenticeship funds are lost permanently, the clock is ticking.
About ICS Learn
ICS Learn provides flexible, digital-first apprenticeship training in HR and Accountancy with end-to-end business and apprentice support.
Visit their website to find out more information.