Targets and tribulations

Source: PSE June/July 2018

David Willett, corporate director at The Open University, walks us through the university’s research into the apprenticeship levy, as well as its flexible approach to learning on-the-job.

The UK is in a precarious position. Despite some progress over the last year, our productivity continues to lag behind other members of the G7, restricting the growth of organisations and our economy. In the coming years we also face the challenges of managing the introduction of new technologies, our ageing workforce and, of course, leaving the European Union.

As Theresa May said when she launched her Industrial Strategy last year, "a successful economy must be built on firm foundations", including the skills of its workers. In order to boost skills in the public sector, the government introduced new apprenticeship targets; 2.3% of staff in public sector organisations with more than 250 workers must be employed as apprentices between 2017 and 2021, either as new starters or as part of continuing professional development.

In order to encourage more investment in skills training across all sectors, the government also introduced the apprenticeship levy, which sees all organisations with a wage bill greater than £3m pay 0.5 per cent of this into a National Apprenticeship Service account, to be withdrawn only to fund apprenticeships. However, a year on from the introduction of the levy, organisations in England had withdrawn only £108 million of the £1.39 billion paid in.

Using the apprenticeship levy

According to recent research commissioned by The Open University, more than four in five (82%) senior decision makers in the public sector agree with the apprenticeship levy in principle, with significant majorities seeing it as an opportunity to address the skills shortage (65%) and benefit the UK economy (65%). However, half (50%) of those who support the idea of the levy disagree with the system in its current form.

While those in private sector organisations face losing access to apprenticeship levy funding if they don't use it, those in the public sector also face additional scrutiny from the Department of Education if they are not able to show regard for the 2.3 per cent apprenticeship target, or provide a good reason this has not been met.

Addressing the barriers

In the public sector, one of the biggest barriers preventing organisations from making use of apprenticeship levy funding is time. The drain on HR and senior management's time is a key issue for apprenticeship uptake, with the time taken to develop a strategy (19%), research apprenticeship programmes (18%) and complete the administration required (19%) all playing a role.

At The Open University, we have an experienced team who can help ease the time burden of senior leaders in the public sector, from helping to develop an apprenticeship strategy to supporting organisations through the process of accessing funding.

The flexibility of course provision is another significant barrier, with one in five (18%) senior decision makers in the public sector saying the 20% off-the-job training requirement takes staff away from their duties for too long.

Our agile, technology-enabled delivery allows more flexibility to fit training hours around other responsibilities, which helps organisations to remain productive and run efficiently, while increasing the skills required to help them adapt to upcoming challenges.

Apprenticeships don’t have to be an onerous game of targets and tribulations; the levy is a huge opportunity. We understand that the process can be off-putting or time-consuming, but organisations don't have to go it alone. There is plenty of support out there to help make apprenticeships work for you.




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