Angry employers slam ‘frankly impossible’ apprenticeship levy requirements

But speakers at World of Learning event urge organisations to be ‘creative and compliant’ in attitude to off-the-job learning

Delegates at the World of Learning Conference and Exhibition yesterday took the opportunity to air their grievances and challenge the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) over one of the apprenticeship levy’s more restrictive requirements.

At a fringe talk discussing the six months following the implementation of the levy, learning and development professionals questioned Greg Dean, head of large employer engagement strategy at ESFA, on the levy’s mandatory 20 per cent off-the-job training provision.

“Managers can’t afford to lose a working trainee for one day a week – which is the working equivalent of 20 per cent off-the-job training,” one delegate said, as Dean urged employers to consider the bigger picture and embrace a strategic delivery of the levy.

Under the apprenticeship levy guidelines, off-the-job training is defined as learning undertaken outside of the normal day-to-day working environment. This can include training delivered at the apprentice’s normal place of work, but must not be delivered as part of their normal working duties.

Off-the-job training must also contribute towards the professional development of an apprentice, and the achievement of an apprenticeship, and must compromise at least 20 per cent of a minimum 12-month apprenticeship.

“[Off-the-job training] is about cultural change and investment in training; it’s an important factor for the introduction of the levy, because our training hours are in decline while our competitors’ are increasing,” Dean told People Management. “The levy is an intervention to improve training investment, but a change this significant will take time, and businesses need to be open to that. Off-the-job training is a key funding rule, and must form part of an apprenticeship, or it will not count as an apprenticeship.”

However, delegates remained skeptical about how off-the-job training could be practically delivered, with one L&D professional slamming the requirements as “frankly impossible” during a Q&A session.

Kate Temple-Brown, strategic apprenticeship levy consultant and partner at Temple Brown Consulting, told People Management that employers must strive to be optimistic about the levy, and scrutinise how they can use off-the-job training to benefit both the employer and the trainee.

“Off-the-job training is one of the biggest hurdles to people starting their levy journey, but there’s a big list of activities that off-the-job training can include in the government guidelines – it can include meetings and site visits as well as training,” she said. “But line managers must be engaged for this to be effective; if they are creative and compliant, the time spent delivering off-the-job training outside out of the office could be closer to 10 per cent.”

Earlier this month, skills minister Anne Milton said she was “flabbergasted” at the lack of understanding many businesses still showed over the levy. Meanwhile, Department for Education figures, also released earlier this month, showed that just half of eligible employers had signed up for an apprenticeship service account – the system that will allow them to withdraw funds to spend on training.

“The levy is an opportunity waiting to be used in a creative way,” Temple-Brown said. “Organisations have pulled the shutters down about utilising it because they feel it is too complex, but we’re hoping to galvanise them into growing a more creative and understanding learning culture.”