It is a great time to be celebrating apprenticeships.

The NAW 2016 theme is ‘an apprenticeship can take you anywhere‘and this seemed very appropriate as we celebrated the successes of apprentices trained by Catch22 at our annual awards event on the 14th March.

With 3 million apprenticeships starts to be achieved by 2020 there are opportunities that will benefit our organisations, learners and employer partners.

There will be challenges as well, so we need to go in with our eyes wide open.   

The Apprenticeships Levy brings a great opportunity for employers with a payroll bill of £3 million plus to utilise apprenticeships to recruit and develop talent in their organisations.  As providers we will benefit if we can deliver what employers want in the context of the new Standards. In the Budget this week it was also announced the employers will receive a 10% top-up to their monthly levy contributions in England, available for them to spend on apprenticeship training through their digital account. So there are even more incentives for employers to become involved. I believe there are opportunities for providers to offer added value, for a fair price, to the employers that goes beyond the Standards. 

We know for non levy payers there will be a financial contribution required to access the contribution from Government. Catch22 have said to Government that non levy payers should be able to provide in kind contributions as well.  With non levy payer employers there are great opportunities for providers to market an end to end service that takes away the administrative burden of managing apprenticeships.  I believe many SMEs want providers to do this.

The Apprenticeship Standards and Assessment Plans are welcomed because now we have something aligned to a job role and it supports career development in a profession or occupation.  The behaviour elements are also important and align to the work we have been doing on mindset qualities with learners.  As providers we need to get to grips with Assessment Plans and prepare learners to a very high standard so that they pass or get distinctions at their end point assessment.  Operational staff may have concerns that some Standards do not offer qualifications, such as NVQs.  However this becomes an opportunity to offer employers these qualifications (at the right price) if they want them as an add on.  Through the Provider Reference Groups (PRGs) we have commented on draft Assessment Plans and pleased that employer representatives are listening.  Whilst Apprenticeship Frameworks were not perfect, we shouldn’t be disregarding things that worked well in them.

Quality remains critical and we know that the Government and employers only want to work with the best providers.   We need to understand better how Ofsted, the Institute of Apprenticeships and the SFA will inspect and regulate providers.  We welcome inspection and it must be balanced with allowing providers to get on and deliver what is required for employers and the 3 million apprenticeship starts by 2020.

In conclusion, we are entering a new market place in apprenticeships with lots of opportunities and challenges.  As providers we need to be proactive and with a sense of urgency become quickly engaged to drive the agenda in partnership with employers and Government.

Asi Panditharatna is the Managing Director of Catch22 Apprenticeships and Employability
He is the Vice Chair of the ERSA Youth Employment Forum
Catch22 are a member of ERSA