Attack by the Learning and Work Institute on Higher and Degree Apprenticeships – OPINION

Attack by the Learning and Work Institute on Higher and Degree Apprenticeships – OPINION

Last week the chief executive of the Learning and Work Institute, Stephen Evans, congratulated himself on getting strong support from both AoC and AELP for proposing the Apprenticeship levy paid by the NHS, Police Forces should be prioritised to train yet more hairdressers in SMEs rather than nurses or police constables following the publication of its report ‘Bridging the Gap: Next Steps for the Apprenticeship Levy’.

Can the Learning and Work Institute explain to the Treasury, Home Office and Department of Health why it is campaigning to prioritise level 2 Apprenticeships and to restrict the ability of employers to spend on higher level STEM, nursing and police apprenticeships?

Indeed, can the Learning and Work Institute explain to Police Chief Constables why it believes they should pay an ADDITIONAL 75% of the cost of a Police Constable Degree Apprenticeship and, why levy payments paid by police forces should instead be prioritised to train chefs, hairdressers, nail technicians and customer service staff in small private businesses?

The following sets out UVAC’s position which was published by FE News online on 30 October 2019:

This week saw publication of a Learning and Work Institute Report on the over-spend of the Apprenticeship Levy Pot. One high profile recommendation proposed forcing employers to make a 50% payment over and above their levy payment for a level 4 and 5 Apprenticeship and a 75% payment over and above their levy payment for Degree Apprenticeships for employers aged 25 and over.  Colleagues from AoC and AELP piled in to endorse the report (and I presumed the recommendations?)  

Let’s start by looking at what the Learning and Work Institute proposals on Higher and Degree Apprenticeship would mean for the public sector.  Is the Learning and Work Institute REALLY proposing that Police Forces shouldn’t be allowed to use their levy to cover the full cost of a Police Constable Degree Apprenticeship and that such funds should instead be used to provide 95% subsidies to train chefs, hairdressers and nail technicians in small private businesses?  Would Police Chief Constables, the Home Office or indeed any politician support such a proposal?  Similar comments could be made for the NHS in respect of nurses, or local authorities in respect of social workers.  Does the Learning and Work Institute really believe its recommendations will, or indeed should, be taken seriously by the Treasury, BEIS, the Home Office, and Department of Health etc?  For the sake of our public services let’s hope not!

Bizarrely while lobbying to restrict Degree Apprenticeships the Learning and Institute makes no recommendation about curtailing some level 2 and 3 Apprenticeships.  I would love to know why the Learning and Work Institute believes it’s been a good use of public funding for the state in England to fund 3 ½ times as many hairdressing training programmes as Germany. Could the Learning and Work Institute explain why it’s a better use of the NHS levy to continue to fund such provision in small private businesses rather than help tackle the national nursing crisis by using Nursing Apprenticeships?  

In view of the above we would like to ask the Learning and Work Institute to withdraw its recommendation on Higher and Degree Apprenticeship.  Instead we would like the Learning and Work Institute to join UVAC to support our NHS, Police Forces and other public sector employers use THEIR levy payments to train their staff of what ever age in the occupational areas at what ever level they need, be they nurses, police constables, social workers, managers etc.  I’d like to invite AELP and AoC to make a similar commitment.

The prioritisation of lower level Apprenticeships and restrictions on Higher and Degree Apprenticeships makes as little sense in the private sector as it does in the public sector. So as our international competitors drive up the value chain, why are the Learning and Work Institute suggesting that employers in England should be prevented from using their levy to spend on the Higher and Degree Apprenticeships their businesses need? Doesn’t the Learning and Work Institute believe STEM Apprenticeships should be restricted as part of some campaign for a low skill, low productivity and low wage economy?      

On two points the report is accurate – there is insufficient Apprenticeship funding for SMEs.  This is, however, not news UVAC members have been turning away employers who wanted to use Higher and Degree Apprenticeship for a good 18 months.  In terms of the 16 – 18 provision, UVAC recommended to the Secretary of State that Apprenticeships, like A levels and T levels should be funded by general taxation, a position shared by AELP and AoC.

So what should the Government do when faced with the over-spend of the Apprenticeship levy pot?  Firstly, levy payments paid by the public sector should be ring fenced.  Public sector employers should then be allowed to fully spend THEIR levy on the Apprenticeships, nursing, policing, social work, management etc. they need.  Secondly, Apprenticeship funding for non-levy paying employers should be prioritised on the basis of the Government’s Industrial Strategy.  Priority occupations would be allocated a 95% Government co-investment and non-priority occupations a 75% Government co-investment. 

Given it’s substantial flaws I can’t see the Learning and Work Institute’s report on prioritising the Apprenticeship levy pot by age or level having much traction in Government.  The worry would be if anyone ever took it seriously. Let’s hope the Learning and Work Institute has a rethink.

For discussion or further information speak to Adrian Anderson a.anderson@bolton.ac.uk