The Apprenticeship Levy has now been introduced and has been met with some confusion and concern by large employers in our sector. Rob Newby, Skills for Care, has this to say on the levy and apprenticeships as a whole.

The last twelve months have seen the most radical changes in the world of qualifications, apprenticeships and learning for nearly a decade. The introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy for employers with a paybill over £3m and the publication of new Apprenticeship Standards with their associated end point assessments mean that employers are faced with difficult decisions for their workforce development strategies.

For those employers who pay the levy their immediate reaction may be that they wish to try to recoup as much of the levy funds as possible by taking on a large number of apprentices in this first year, however this is a short term strategy. What happens in year 2, year 4 and year 6?

Their levy payments will continue but continued increases in apprenticeship numbers may not be sustainable as a business model. Wages have to be found and roles for the apprentices in training; and what of their longer term retention within the sector?

Longer term employment opportunities and stronger retention should be the goal of developing and training the workforce and a system which just keeps adding in apprentices will do nothing to contribute to the efforts of organisations working to reduce turnover rates, increase retention and promote progression to professionalise the workforce.

Non levy paying employers also face a difficult decision as they will have to contribute 1/10 of the cost of training, and no longer will they be able to negotiate an ‘in-kind’ agreement with their learning providers. Instead they will have to use real funds to support their workforce development, at a time when money is critical for care providers’ sustainability.

Then there is the issue of the 20% off the job recording which the employer must undertake for audit purposes, the negotiating over price with learning providers, the need for robust and meaningful induction and the coaching and preparation for end point assessment.

So taking all these factors into consideration, why would an employer look to take on an apprentice?

Well, the evidence is clear apprenticeships are good for your business. On average an apprentice will bring in over £15,000 more than they cost over the lifetime of their apprenticeship and is approximately £3,000 per year less expensive than alternative provision that employers would use.[1]

But let’s deal with some of those other issues. The requirements for off the job learning has always been within the apprenticeship model, so isn’t a change for either learning providers or employers. Nor does it have to equate to one day a week. The 20% is calculated over the lifetime of the apprenticeship learning programme, so induction programmes, research and self-directed learning as well as theoretical input from employers and learning providers all count towards this total.

  • Within the Funding Guidance produced by the Education Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) employers and learning providers can be innovative in their approach and proper record keeping is key, something we are used to within adult social care.
  • Negotiating with learning providers over price can be daunting for some employers but you as the employer are in control of the system. No longer should you have to accept the ‘one size fits all’ approach of some learning providers. Negotiate on quality first and foremost.
  • Ensure that what you are buying meets your requirements and if you cannot get it from one provider, find one who can meet your needs. The Register of Apprenticeship Training Providers (RoATP) has increasing numbers of learning providers who have been through a robust quality checking system with the Department for Education in terms of their apprenticeship delivery so should meet your needs.
  • This is commissioning in its truest sense – again something we are familiar with within adult social care with its commissioning requirements from Local Authorities. Use those models to specify and purchase the Apprenticeship programme that works for your business.
  • Meaningful induction for apprentices and non-apprentices alike is key to setting the direction of their future careers within the adult care workforce. Inductions should be planned and reviewed and the Care Certificate achievement is only one part of an induction programme. Each day over 1,000 people join our workforce and require induction. Employers with well-planned induction, a clear learning and development plan for their staff and a culture of learning and continuing professional development within their workforces will support the increased retention of their staff and find it easier to recruit.
  • And finally to those end point assessment tests. When the employer Trailblazer Group designed the Assessment Strategy their starting point was to raise the quality of learning and development, to ensure that only those individuals who were the very best in terms of their practice achieved an apprenticeship and that it would no longer be a ‘tick-box’ process of achievement.

The tests are designed to consolidate the apprentice’s knowledge, skills, values, behaviours and understanding. The close examination of these factors should ensure that the apprentice becomes a valuable and valued asset to your business such as Letta London, someone who demonstrates the very best of skills and knowledge and who can impact positively on people who use care and support services.

Which leads to an interesting point. Are apprenticeships for everyone?

Technically the answer is yes, there are no barriers to entry to the programme; age is no longer a factor, neither is prior achievement of qualifications as long as they were in a different occupational area. But the real answer to the question is that in the future apprenticeships may only be for the very best in our workforces, and something for which people compete to achieve.

That is not to say that learning and development and achievement of qualifications should not be accessed by everyone in the workplace, rather that the new Apprenticeship Standards with their rigour and testing should be seen as the pinnacle of learning and achievement.

We know that evidence shows that workers within the sector who hold qualifications have a greater positive impact on those people they support, but this may be time to look at a wide range of options for the workforce.

Stand-alone qualifications have great merit, have been based on National Occupational Standards, are subject to rigour through the Awarding Body process and provide occupational competence to work within our sector.

Non-accredited learning programmes and CPD opportunities provide the chance for experienced workers to refresh skills and knowledge and to specialise in areas of support and Leadership and Management development comes in many forms to support career progression opportunities measured through a knowledge and skills framework.

We now have a wide range of opportunities for everyone in the workforce to undertake learning and development. Some, like the apprenticeships, are funded through government initiatives, and others rely on employer contribution or self-funding. The important thing is that workers in adult social care are given the right learning opportunities at the right time in their career to match their aspirations and potential.

There are, in development, work based routes into degree level regulated professions and the integration agenda moving social care and health closer together will bring even more opportunity for cross over between these sectors.

The important thing is to develop a long term workforce development strategy which takes into account all these facets, meets the needs of your employees and supports those who use our services.

[1] Skills for Care: Progression Pathways Project: Return on Investment in Apprentices. SkyBlue Research 2014