Thoughts on the apprenticeship levy

This piece is written for those who have the responsibility to make sure they use their apprenticeship levy. I’ll make this clear up front – these are my thoughts only and do not in any way reflect those of my employer.

If you’re unclear what the apprenticeship levy is about, the government guidance on what it’s for and the details that surround are really rather good.

I’ve just completed writing a paper for our senior leaders on how I think we’re going to make best use of it. I’m not sharing that here, I’m sharing more about my thoughts on how the apprenticeship levy is going to be best used.

First, I’ll admit to having a hard time not seeing the apprenticeship levy as anything other than a major ballache. It’s an administrative and bureaucratic nightmare which is almost more prohibitive than it is helpful and useful. It took me a while to get properly tuned in to what the levy is meant to be helping with.

The government are telling us it’s to encourage the development of more apprenticeships across the UK. Yep, I get that. There are numerous standards meeting a complete range of ‘skills’ which UK business are saying are needed. Ok, I’m with it.

There are some organisations I know who are choosing to just pay the levy and not worry about it any further. Yeah that’s right – they just can’t be bothered trying to administer it and make best use of it because of the resource requirement to do it. I don’t blame them. At One Housing, our levy charge is fairly significant so that’s not an option for us.

There are other organisations who are seriously large and have the resources available to become their own training provider and administer the levy themselves. All power to them. We’re not that large – and most organisations paying the levy aren’t that large – that we can do that.

So how can you make best use of the levy, if you’re in the majority paying it and wanting to try and make best use of it?

24 months

Well, the first thing I’d suggest is that there’s no rush to have to act with urgency. The monthly deductions are held in your digital account for 24 months. Each month you don’t access it, it accumulates. That actually creates a stronger position to use it a bit further down the line if you need time to create a utilisation strategy.

Just make sure that if you do have a plan to use it is used in that period, or each successive month’s payment that you don’t use defaults as a payment to HMRC.

Year 1

I’m taking the approach that Year 1 will be a huge badass big and bold experiment. I have no idea if our plan for utilisation is going to work. So I’m making it clear to everyone in the organisation that Year 1 is a good period of time to figure things out and gather a lot of useful evidence about our plan.

From here, I’ll be able to do a healthy review of our plan and make some purposeful and stronger decisions on how we continue to utilise the levy from Year 2 onwards.

Training Provider / College

The way the standards are designed, you have no choice but to use an approved training provider / college to deliver the training. Find someone who really understands the details of the levy and its implementation. Implementation is key to making it work, and partnering with the right training provider will be essential to making it a success.

Also, as a completely separate thought, the apprenticeship levy will create a massive boon for training providers / colleges across the UK. For the organisations who choose to utilise the levy, it creates a sudden and interested group of companies who will be willingly knocking on the doors of approved providers – that’s a pretty strong position to be in.

Alternatives

Don’t forget that the standards aren’t just about employing traditional apprentices. It’s also about upskilling current staff using the standards. It’s a healthy way to invest in existing staff and ties in very nicely to those concerned about all things engagement and retention of staff.

And you could use it as a recruitment strategy too. You could hire someone at a junior level, train them via the standard, and at the end of their training they get the original role and an increase in salary. That’s a win all round.

That damned 20%

This is the part of the levy which will cause the most pain. How can you best support people not being in the office for 20% of their time? I have no easy answer to this, and will be highly contextual dependent on the standard sought, the management of that person’s work, how the team understand what’s going on, and support to complete their training as required.

It’s also effectively reinforcing the very traditional format of classroom based training. There is absolutely scope here for training providers and colleges to get really modern and smart about the delivery of the standards. If different versions of the following could be implemented, it makes that 20% much more palatable:

  • dedicated e-learning for skills development – followed up with application of learning
  • on the job training that matches skills learned with skills required for the standard
  • work based projects that could replace elements of the standard and achieve the same outcomes

Like I say, though, the standards are pretty well defined, and that means training providers/colleges will be mostly seeking to just fulfil the standards and not really thinking about modern learning methodology or how learning technologies can play a part.

That’s where I’m at for now. I’m on-side with the levy, but honestly only because I have to be because we don’t have a choice about making the payments.

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Published by

Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

One thought on “Thoughts on the apprenticeship levy”

  1. Sukh

    Good summary. As a training provider (Happy Ltd), maybe its easier for me to see this as an opportunity. But surely it is a huge opportunity for organisations like yours too.

    Take the area we are focusing on, management development. At a seminar that we held last week I asked participants how much formal learning people underwent when they became managers. Out of a dozen, only one received any. For the rest, it was a matter of their managers “learning on the job”.

    Perhaps that is why the quality of management in this country is not as good as it could be?

    The Apprenticeship levy could make a big difference. For the first time for many organisations they could put their first-time managers on a twelve month development programme, entirely paid for out of their levy. Think of the difference that could make to those people, and to all the people they will manage.

    Yes, there will be paperwork and bureacracy. But there will also be the opportunity to rethink, to use all we know about how people learn. We can include social learning. We can build online communities of practice.

    The introduction of the Levy represents £2-3 billion being put into learning, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for learning professionals. It’s good to know you are thinking well about it, Sukh. Let’s get everybody thinking about how to really make the most of it

    Henry Stewart
    http://www.happy.co.uk

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