Government promises to make apprenticeships ‘simple and user friendly’

Experts praise improvements but renew call for the apprenticeship levy to be broadened into a wider skills levy

Credit: Gary Burchell/Getty Images

The government has promised a number of changes to make apprenticeships easier for businesses, however experts have called for broader reform. 

The Education and Skills Funding Agency outlined a new package of changes, to be introduced in August, that the skills minister Alex Burghart said would focus on making the apprenticeships system “as simple and user-friendly as possible”.

Among the changes include plans to streamline apprenticeship courses for individuals, the introduction of standardised requirements for off-the-job training and the creation of a “more efficient payment service”. 

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“We have transformed apprenticeships so they offer a high-quality route into professions,” said Burghart. “We now want to focus on making the system as simple and user-friendly as possible, reducing bureaucratic burdens on employers and providers and giving apprentices the best possible experience.”

Paul Warner, director of strategy and business development at the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP), welcomed many of the changes, including the plans for off-the-job training.

“Along with being fairer, the proposed [off-the-job] baseline approach is simpler to understand,” he said.

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Proposed changes reducing the English and maths requirements were also a “step in the right direction”, Warner said, arguing this would have a positive impact on apprenticeship completions.

Lizzie Crowley, senior skills policy advisor at the CIPD, welcomed plans to streamline apprenticeship courses by taking into account the prior learning and experience of new apprenticeship starters, suggesting this could lower overall costs of programmes.

But, said Crowley: “Further change is necessary, that’s why we are calling on the government to reform the apprenticeship levy into a more flexible skills levy.”

This would allow employers to use the levy to develop existing staff through other forms of accredited training, which Crowley said would be cheaper and suitable for already experienced employees. 

Paul Holcroft, managing director at Croner, also said more employers would benefit from a “wider training scheme”. 

“The current apprenticeship levy remains widely unused and is seen by most as another tax that must be paid, rather than an initiative to support inexperienced and unskilled workers,” he explained. “The system would be especially valuable if it could be used to retrain or upskill existing staff members.”

Holcroft added that, in the current labour market, employers risk losing people to competitors if they are not able to continue learning. “As such, being able to utilise a training levy to continue to support and develop them internally would be a win-win for all,” he said. 

Tania Bowers, global public policy director at the Association Of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo), also criticised the apprenticeship levy for failing to cater to flexible workers.

“We have urged the government to broaden the scope of the levy to cover administrative costs and ‘bench’ salaries to facilitate a commercial, realistic and flexible scheme in which recruitment firms can fund ‘flexi-job’ apprenticeships,” she said.

Nishi Mayor, business director at Business in the Community (BITC), said she was reserving judgement on how impactful these latest changes would be. “However well-intentioned these changes are, employers will need to take a measured approach and see for themselves if the apprenticeship system has become simpler or just more condensed,” she suggested.