Spotlight on apprenticeships highlights role of levy on training investment

National Apprenticeship Week 2018 highlights some great work. But reform of the apprenticeship levy is needed for more progress on skills

Apprentice

Apprenticeships have rightly been promoted as a great route in to work, and way to build relevant job skills. That’s what the vision that the Government set out in June 2015, when they released their ‘2020 vision’ and the ambitious 3 million target.

It’s vital we find better ways to equip young people for the future of work, and encourage different routes in to work. Given that over a million UK workers don’t have the right skills for their job, anything that improves that situation is a step in the right direction.

As we near the end of National Apprenticeship Week 2018, we have seen many examples of the great contribution that apprentices are bringing to organisations - and the way good apprenticeship programmes can develop skills and career pathways. The CIPD's own apprenticeship guide for employers gives practical advice on designing and running high-quality programmes.

But are the scheme’s ambitious aims being met? The signs are that there’s still a way to go. As a route in to work for young people, the Government’s own figures show just a quarter of apprenticeships are going to those aged under 19, compared to 29% going to those over 25. Meanwhile, two-thirds of all apprenticeships go to existing employees, rather than giving someone a chance to get into the labour market.

The apprenticeship levy, raised from all larger employers as a means of funding more apprenticeships risks looks unlikely to improve these figures.

The CIPD’s recent research assessing the impact of the levy shows that nearly half of levy-paying employers will simply re-badge existing training as apprenticeships for current employees. A third admit they’ll use the money on leadership and management training. This is much more likely to benefit older workers and, in any case, should be part of employers’ broader training funding.

The issue is also one of quality, not just quantity. The majority of apprenticeships available for those under 19 are at intermediate level 2, which are the equivalent of GCSEs. For many employers, apprenticeships are inflexible and bureaucratic, so a low-level entry point is easier to deliver. But without more high-level apprenticeships that represent genuine career development, parity of esteem with higher education looks a long way off.

Business must play its part. It’s important in pursuing recovery of the levy that other forms of training investment don’t suffer.

Much more thinking about the future workforce and skills is needed as technology advances. The enthusiasm from employers for new apprenticeship frameworks that fit their specific current needs, alongside the vast array of qualifications already existing, is in danger of driving greater proliferation and specialisation. There must be a better understanding of the core and transferable skills that will sustain employees through their future careers, whatever their start point. Specialist job skills will change rapidly, and every business needs to find the most effective ways of building these skills on the job.

The CIPD believes the Government should open up the levy to fund more than just apprenticeships, and to encourage wider investment in training in the workplace.  This is more vital than ever if businesses are to remain competitive in a changing world.

Top