Firstly, the UVAC team would like to wish you a Happy New Year and a prosperous 2019! We have a busy year ahead. Degree Apprenticeships are developing a solid reputation as the flagship apprenticeship programme in England but there are still many challenges (as well as opportunities) to implementation.
So as we step into a new calendar year, what do I think are the priorities for Apprenticeship policy in England in this, UVAC’s 20th anniversary year?
At the end of last year the Institute for Apprenticeships (IfA) forecast that the Apprenticeship levy pot would be over-spent. UVAC has long argued that with employers wanting to spend more on the higher level and high cost Apprenticeships their businesses need the Apprenticeship funding pot will be overspent. To UVAC this forecast therefore comes as no surprise. What, however, is striking is the intensity of the debate this ‘announcement’ has generated over how the monies generated by the levy should be spent. Let me divide those advancing arguments into two groups, although unsurprisingly there are factions in both. To declare an interest I am a firm adherent of the ‘new’ apprenticeship group.
The ‘New’ Apprenticeship Group – this group fully believe in the ‘employer in the driving seat’ and productivity focus of Apprenticeship. The central argument here is that employers are in the best place to decide where Apprenticeship should be focused and the movement upwards in Apprenticeship level and its increasing focus on the skills needed by the economy is to be celebrated if not loudly applauded. Social mobility is seen in the context of developing new work-based progression routes to technical occupations and the professions. Apprenticeship is, however, seen as a programme for all and its adoption by middle class families as proof that Apprenticeship is casting off its reputation as a good programme for other peoples’ children
The ‘Old’ Apprenticeship Group – this group believe in the original purpose of Apprenticeship as a programme to support individuals who didn’t get a full-level 2 at school, those not interested in going to university, potentially NEET, predominantly the young and the need for Apprenticeship to focus on lower level job roles. Productivity is seen in the context of the need to ensure individuals achieve level 2 and level 3 skills and successfully enter into and develop within the workforce. Social mobility is seen as fundamental, but is defined as getting individuals into work or progression from level 2 to level 3. There is deep concern that employers, when deciding on the Apprenticeships to purchase, will focus Apprenticeship provision on certain cohorts and the middle class ‘haves’ rather than the ‘have-nots’ will be the main beneficiaries.
Some texts are cherished by one group, but rejected by the other. The growth of management apprenticeships is celebrated by those in the ‘new’ group who base their argument on HM Government’s Industrial Strategy which emphasised the need to increase management skills to boost productivity. For those in the old group this argument doesn’t apply, instead they quote the Ofsted Chief Inspector’s Annual Report about employers spending too much on “repackaged” graduate schemes. To those in the ‘new’ group these comments are unfounded and are spoken by someone with no authority to comment on Degree Apprenticeship provision. There’s even disagreement on what an Apprenticeship is. The ‘old’ group rejects the concept of management MBA apprenticeships (despite a Standard having been created and developed by employers) while the ‘new’ group questions the value of those level 2 staples, business administration and customer service apprenticeships.
So where do we go next as we start the new calendar year? Firstly we must recognise that people have genuine and passionate beliefs and will not change their views readily. There may, however, also be areas of common concern and interest. I’ve argued elsewhere that employers through the levy shouldn’t be forced to pay for the failure of the schools’ system by supporting the third of young people who emerge from eleven years of compulsory education without a full level 2. This doesn’t, however, mean that I don’t believe there isn’t a need for Traineeships and other provision for this cohort to be properly funded by DfE (although not from the levy). I also think on the basis of employer need we can all collectively work on the development of work based progression routes from level 2 and 3 to higher technical, managerial and professional occupations. And yes some level 2 Apprenticeship provision, if based on real employer skills needs, is appropriate. But let’s not forget the fundamental purpose of Apprenticeship and the Apprenticeship levy – to raise productivity. Government rightly put employers, not Ofsted, IfA or ESFA in the driving seat because employers are in the best position to decide how to spend on the skills they need to raise the productivity of their existing and new employees. Anyone interested in UK productivity should therefore celebrate the growth of higher level Apprenticeships in STEM areas, for key public sector occupations, managers and senior leaders and movement away from the historic focus of Apprenticeship on level 2 and many questionable ‘occupations’.
I look forward to working earnestly this year on the sector’s behalf. Be assured UVAC will continue, through our official journal Higher Education, Skills and Work-based Learning and other media, to extol the virtues and success of the Apprenticeship reforms and the positive impact of Higher and Degree Apprenticeships.
Adrian Anderson, Chief Executive