It’s been a year since the Government introduced the Apprenticeship Levy in a bid to tackle skills shortages and boost apprenticeship numbers. Leah Shortt, Operations Manager from Learning Unlimited takes a look at how the apprenticeship landscape has changed since its introduction and shares how employers can make the most of the system.
The success of the apprenticeship reforms has been debated and analysed by many. Recent headlines highlight that the change hasn’t been plain sailing and many feel that the levy is having the opposite effect to the one that was intended. There are different opinions and pockets of success amongst these headlines though.
Nationally, the number of apprenticeship starts has fallen 24% over the last 12 months since the introduction of the levy. However, Learning Unlimited has seen a 14% increase in the first quarter of the academic year. We’re extremely proud of this figure and we’re delighted that we’ve been able to support the employers we work with to navigate around the plethora of the apprenticeship changes that have been introduced to ensure they can get a return on their investment and fill their skills gaps.
Recent studies from various organisations and industry bodies claim that the levy isn’t popular. They highlight that the new system is an administration burden and too inflexible for many. Statistics from the Institute of Directors show that only one-in-seven employers feel the levy is fit for purpose and the Chamber of Commerce has highlighted that although its members recognise how crucial apprenticeships are for shaping the skills of tomorrow, they are frustrated about the restrictions of the new system.
There is a train of thought that says the levy isn’t doing enough to address the skills shortages we have. Others believe that the decline of apprenticeship starts could be because larger levy paying companies are taking time to adjust their strategies for learning and development. Learning how to choose and work with the right provider in the levy landscape has also been a hurdle many companies have had to overcome.
It isn’t all doom and gloom though. A lot of organisations are now supporting apprenticeships more than ever and see the real benefits they can bring to their organisation. The Apprenticeship Levy allows employers to take control of their apprenticeship programmes. Receiving the support of a well-established and experienced training provider can help organisations develop a long term strategy for delivering high quality apprenticeship programmes.
There has been an increase in the number of higher level apprenticeship starts and many organisations have been able to use their levy to fund these programmes and open up new opportunities, in areas of the organisation where they wouldn’t normally recruit apprentices.
Certain sectors report they are feeling confident that the levy offers new opportunities and are planning spend whilst others feel it is a barrier. To date, according to information obtained by the Open University, only 8% of the possible fund has been used from the Levy pot so it is vital that employers start to spend before the first of the funds expire in just 12 months when they will have to be handed back to the treasury.
Love it or loathe it, for now at least, we have to work with the Levy. We’ve worked with companies large and small across a variety of sectors to guide them through the apprenticeship reforms and the levy. We’ve learnt a thing or two in that time so we’ve put together 5 top tips for working in the levy landscape which might be useful to you.
1. Use the experts: Get some advice
Industry bodies and training providers will be able to help you navigate through the intricacies of the levy. There is also some useful information and step by step guides on the Government website. Here at Learning Unlimited we have levy experts on hand who will really get to know your business and as a result be able to advise and find the answer to your burning questions and help you make sense of all the information.
2. Find the right partner
Training providers should be able to offer your business the expertise, quality of service and level of detail you need to develop your workforce. Apprenticeship achievement and progression rates will give you a good indication of the quality you will get from a provider but their knowledge of your industry and their ability to help you navigate you through the intricacies of the changing apprenticeship landscape are also things you should look out for. We have supported many employers to manage their levy and this has helped them to continue to develop their workforce.
3. Be strategic
Don’t spend just because you have to. Develop a training and development plan which fits with your organisations strategy and gives you the skills you need to excel. Think about progression and how that will impact on your business and your ability to maximise your levy funds. Where we have worked with employers to provide a bespoke account management service it has helped to effectively establish and implement a levy strategy to make the most of funds available.
4. Take your team with you
The levy probably means that your training budget spend has had to change. See this as an opportunity to re-evaluate your workforce development plan and get help from someone who is knowledgeable, experienced and understands the levy. If you are making changes to your learning and development strategy, involve your employees with its design and communicate how it will meet the needs of the business as well as their personal development and career aspirations.
5. Keep up to date
A crystal ball would be a useful tool but in the absence of a reliable model the best strategy is to watch this space. As always, we are keeping a close eye on how apprenticeships are developing and what that means for the employers we work with and sharing that information with them to ensure they can make the most of the opportunities which already exist and prepare them for changes which might affect them now and in the future.