Since the introduction of The Apprenticeship Levy in April 2017 there has been a renewed emphasis placed on Apprenticeships as the foundation for workforce development. The levy requires all UK employers with an annual pay bill of more than £3million to set aside a 0.5% sum for training. Payment of this levy entitles employers to access levy funds to spend on apprenticeships; manage apprentices; pay training providers and stop or pause payments to training providers. The levy was billed as a way to create 3m apprenticeships by 2020 and improve the UK’s poor productivity record.
Over two years later…how have employers reacted to this? To what extent are they aware of the implications of the Levy? What challenges are they facing and just how much do they actually understand about apprenticeships? Our recent research across the public sector, as part of ‘The Workforce Development Trust Survey 2018’, has shed some light on these questions, and would suggest, that for the most part, employers are beset by doubt and confusion, which is hindering take-up and progression.
Public sector bodies in England with 250 or more staff have a target to employ an average of at least 2.3 per cent of their staff as new apprentice starters over the period 1 April 2017 to 31 March 2021. In order to reach this, organisations within this scope should actively consider apprenticeships as part of their workforce planning decisions, either for new recruits or as part of career development for existing staff.
The first returns to government indicate that the drive for apprenticeships is a longer journey than many might have hoped. As of March 2017, the percentage of employees that were apprentices across the 676 employer bodies submitting data, stood at 1.4%. As of 31 March 2018, 1.9% of all employees were apprentices but the ‘new employee’ target remained at 1.4%. Looking at the public services sub-sectors, apart from Armed Forces, all other sectors (Civil Service, Fire Authority, Local Government, NHS, Police) fell short of the target.
So, what are the issues? Why are public sector employers, for the most part, struggling to hit what would appear, on the face of it, to be fairly achievable targets? Our research suggests there is no lack of appetite for apprenticeships with employers acknowledging that they improve staff skill levels; increase staff commitment; support workforce planning, development and deployment; improve the reputation of their organisation; strengthen the HR Process and contribute to meeting organisational targets. However, 40% of respondents stated that they did not employ any apprentices, with the reasons for this broadly falling into 3 categories; barriers presented by the system; doubts that they are the best fit for organisational purpose; and confusion in general.
In terms of systemic barriers, employers stated that existing programmes don’t meet business needs; they don’t know how to access funding; there are constant regulation and framework changes; there is a lack of support in employing apprentices; there are limited funds for the older workforce; and training providers are difficult to access.
In addition to these issues, employers feel that sometimes, ‘apprenticeships aren’t for them’. It was cited that employers prefer to recruit graduates; they cannot afford the cost of apprentices; they believe that productivity suffers due to ‘off the job’ learning; they have insufficient supervisory capacity to line manage apprentices; and there is a perception that apprenticeships offer a low quality investment.
However, the issue which surrounds and encompasses both the barriers and the doubts, is the confusion that employers experience. Less than half of all respondents stated that they had a full awareness of apprenticeships and they were confused on a number of levels - how apprenticeships might add value; the structure of apprenticeships; costs to employers; eligibility; funding levels and the Levy in general.
It is clear that a number of key messages are surfacing around apprenticeships – employers are struggling to hit the public sector targets (with most improvement required in health, policing, local government and fire and rescue services); employers are encountering barriers (perceived or real) in relation to employing apprentices; and undoubtably, there is still considerable confusion and a lack of real understanding of apprenticeships. If employers are reluctant to employ apprentices because they are not sure that they fully understand the world of apprenticeships, then as a note for all stakeholders (employers, training providers, government agencies etc.) it is probably time to talk and to listen.
Do you need assistance with managing your Apprenticeships? We’re here to help.
Skills for Justice are one of the UK’s leading authorities in apprenticeships. We offer in-depth support, information, advice and guidance. Our aim is to ensure you make the most of apprenticeship opportunities and funding.