Jun 17

Using the apprenticeship levy as an opportunity

Posted: 26 June 2017

Jane Manton - blog pictureThis week marks six months until the closure of the current apprenticeship framework. With these changes coming, there are now more opportunities for employers to invest in apprenticeships and use the new standards as well as the new funding systems such as the levy.

We talked to levy paying employer Jane Manton from Lifeways about how she was using the levy with the new apprenticeship standards.    

What was your initial reaction to the levy?

Mixed. Because the information wasn’t forthcoming at the beginning there were a lot of myths to be debunked. Once I’d cut through that I felt and still feel it is the right thing to do – to encourage employers to recruit and support apprenticeships across all industries. I don’t like the phrase ‘tax’ because I don’t think it is. Yes we don’t have a choice as a large employer, and it is an added cost to an already financially challenging period. In addition we previously have been successful in accessing over £1m worth of Skills Funding Agency money via our training provider to support the achievement of vocational learning, but if we view it as an investment in our staff’s learning and development then it can only support retention and engagement of our workforce etc. 

Once I understood that we could use the levy to support our ongoing strategy to upskill our existing workforce then   the important thing was to ensure we maximised the investment. It does also provide an opportunity to review where we can recruit into more apprenticeship posts across the group. 

 If we view it as an investment in our staff’s learning and development then it can only support retention and engagement of our workforce

How did you prepare? What steps did you take?

I did a lot of research - using the internet, attending various workshops, events, and webinars, to help me understand the levy in more detail. This helped me share key messages early doors across the group. I made sure my team was briefed, and wrote internal briefing notes to our Operations colleagues. I presented the main headlines of the three main changes – standards, levy, and the apprenticeship system to our Executive board. In addition I revised internal processes to ensure that we started utilising the levy from May 2017.

As an organisation we already work closely with one of the largest providers of vocational learning in the UK. We have implemented robust control measures at the application and contracting stages, and we also have strong internal processes therefore I felt confident that this would not be too much of a culture shock for all involved.

Working closely with the training provider, Lifetime, has also provided me with an opportunity to ask questions, and voice my concerns in relation to some of the ambiguous areas. For example early on I was concerned about the 20% off work learning, and the impact this may have on additional paid time off work.  However due to my strong relationship with Lifetime they quickly put my concern at ease by explaining what role they play in ensuring that all formal and informal learning will be identified, and captured. In addition they simplified the understanding that the 20% element is not new, and essentially is a ‘reframing’ of the original guided learning hours. 

Lifeways also took part in the pilot testing of the apprenticeship system. I wanted to be fully prepared for what this might look and feel like. Being involved helped us assess that it was a very easy system and would fit well with our internal processes, and contracting process with our training provider. 

What advice would you give to other levy paying employers in social care?

Find the right training provider who will work with you. I very much feel Lifetime are on this journey with us.

Review your internal processes and introduce clear guidance for the selection, and application stages, and ensure managers really understand their role, particularly in relation to the End Point Assessment. Although this may be directly linked to the changes to the standards, as a monthly debit take places from the levy therefore managers really do need to understand the implications of commitment and engagement for members of their team to undertake the qualification. 

Don’t be afraid to challenge assumptions and ask questions of your training provider. 

Do you see the levy as a positive change?

Most definitely, particularly as I view it as an investment in relation to the recruitment and/or upskilling of staff that supports a whole organisation approach to engagement, retention and development.

Jane is Group Head of Workforce Development Quality at Lifeways, one of the UK’s leading providers of support services for people with diverse and often complex needs in community settings.

If you need any more information about apprenticeships and the levy visit www.skillsforcare.org.uk/apprenticeships

You can also find the right training provider for you on the Register of apprenticeship training providers.