Yesterday the Government published The Future of Apprenticeships in England: Implementation Plan. This is essentially a commitment to implement the recommendations of the Richard Review of Apprenticeships – and as such is a real game-changer.
The focus of the Implementation Plan is to put employers at the heart of designing and developing apprenticeship standards, which will finally ensure apprenticeships are relevant to industry's and learners' needs. This has not been the case to date with only one in five manufacturers saying that vocational qualifications are more relevant now than two years ago.
Employers are to be given responsibility for developing short, clear standards and a high level approach to assessment which is to replace the somewhat long and complex frameworks that currently exist. It is the aim that from 2017/18, all new Apprenticeship starts will be based on these new standards…so we are looking at some pretty strict timescales.
Luckily, plans are already in action, as the Government also announced that Trailblazers will be leading the way in implementing these new Apprenticeships, and some of our largest manufacturers, are geared up to lead the charge to ensure that the new standards are robust, rigorous and responsive to industry needs.
The first Trailblazers, supported by the Gatsby Foundation, are to focus on occupations in the following sectors:
- Digital Industries
- Energy and Utilities
- Financial Services
- Food and Drink Manufacturing
- Life Sciences and Industrial Science
Some critics have suggested that the Trailblazers will only service larger employers. However the associated Guidance, published alongside the Implementation Plan, makes clear that the lead industry players must gather substantial evidence of support from SMEs before the standard progresses.
Moreover organisations such as EEF, and the Food and Drink Federation are involved in the Trailblazers to ensure that the voices of SMEs are heard loud and clear. In fact over 60 organisations, including employers and professional bodies, are involved in the first eight pilots.
For me, the collaborations showcased within the Trailblazors, lays the foundation for the creation of sector-led Industrial Partnerships, which we, alongside the UKCES, have long argued for, which would see employers taking end-to-end responsibility of the skills agenda.
We expect to see a number of Industrial Partnership models announced as a result of the Employer Ownership of Skills Round 2 – and it wouldn't be a surprise of some of the key players from today were driving these forward also – with backing from SMEs example throughout their supply chains.
The Implementation Plan also includes measures to improve the quality of apprenticeships, such as introducing higher expectations on English and maths. Again, this will be a welcomed by employers, as three-quarters say they prioritise attainment in English and maths when recruiting apprentices. Continuing such provision will strengthen an apprentice's numeracy and literacy skills which are in constant demand from employers.
The Plan also enforces the 12 month minimum duration for Apprenticeships, and this time ‘without exception'. EEF members will have no problem with this given three-quarters say their apprenticeships last up to four years. Re-enforcing a 12 month minimum will go some way to ensuring that apprenticeships are ‘apprenticeships' and not simply replacing jobs for a short period of time – what I like to call the ‘Panorama Apprenticeship.'
The one area that the Government has yet to commit is funding, which has consulted on separately. We blogged on this not long ago, arguing for a model where the funding is directed through the employer, and not the provider, but urging Government not to rush into a decision on the mechanism used as employers are still divided. Here's hoping they listen to the calls from industry and don't make any rush decisions ahead of the Autumn Statement…..