Last week we saw the 10th anniversary of National Apprenticeship Week, an initiative to raise the profile of apprenticeships and their benefits.

The government also announced the spring budget, setting out plans to move back to technical education through the form of T Levels and increasing participation in apprenticeships. This seems to me an attempt to upskill the UK population to meet the ever increasing demands of UK industry. With business needs being put at the centre of these changes.

Apprenticeships are being reformed. Made simpler, more flexible and easier for businesses to use. This is alongside funding changes, to encourage employers to use the apprenticeship system as part of their workforce planning and development. Approximately 2% of UK businesses will be required (as of April 2017) to pay a levy towards apprentice recruitment. Consequently being forced to look at apprenticeships as part of their workforce planning, or lose  approximately 0.5% of their total wage bill. If employers go down this route they will be required to offer 20% ‘off-the-job’ training in the form of additional activities for apprentices to get a better understanding of the overall organisation, something good employers should already be doing.

It seems as though consensus towards completing an apprenticeship, instead of other educational routes, is becoming more widely accepted. The number of people undertaking an apprenticeship is increasing. However, business participation seems to be floundering. Only 30% of businesses employ an apprentice, leaving room for considerable expansion. The new levy may resolve this to a certain extent, although as mentioned previously, it will only affect as little as 2% of the UK business population. So, as I was asked by a colleague this morning, how are we going to engage with the non-levy paying employers to recruit apprentices?

Realistically all businesses need to be thinking about their workforce planning. I attended the ‘Love Business Expo’ at Donington Park a few weeks ago, and it was highlighted as one of the most important things a business can do. What better way to do this than training your own staff in your business practices? With the new standards not holding accreditation, they are designed to be more flexible, meeting the needs of businesses staffing requirements. Many people think this will lower employee capabilities as it will mean no end qualification. However with the requirements for extra training and a certificate of completion, I believe it will create more rounded employees with more experience in every aspect of their occupation.

This could be very beneficial to small businesses as the flexibility in the new standards means they are able to support with all areas of the business rather than just covering the modules that are specified in the current frameworks. The 20% off-the-job training means they can also get involved in other aspects for example, learning about the financial implications of running an organisation whilst still completing their Customer Service standard for example. As a result of this employers end up with a well rounded efficient member of staff. It could also increase staff retention rates by allowing a better relationship between employer and employee.

Whilst I get the feeling these changes are daunting to current training providers the impact if they are well managed could be highly beneficial to UK industry in decreasing the skills gap we are currently experiencing.