Utility support for new Apprenticeship Regulator public funding and productivity call

The Chief Executive of Energy & Utility Skills has given public support for the views of the new Chief Executive of the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education.

In her first interview through the Financial Times, Jennifer Coupland sets out how the Apprenticeship Levy funded mechanism has led to unintended outcomes, straining the available funding from the contributing employers to the limit and consequently leaving little for non-contributing SME’s and medium enterprises. Coupland calls for the reinstatement of public funding to fill the gap, and – were there any doubts in Whitehall about the value of doing so – that Apprenticeships are vital as a way of raising productivity and reskilling the workforce in the face of rapid technology change. She advised “It is time for the government to lean in more to support small and medium-sized businesses, to plug that gap,” and stated “We’re an employer-led organisation, we want to give employers what they need out of the apprenticeship programme,”

 

Nick Ellins, Chief Executive of the sector skills specialist body for the UK utility sector agrees, advising

The English apprenticeship regulator has chosen the optimum moment to propose pragmatic and productive change. The existing Westminster apprenticeship strategy ends in 2020, the UK Industrial Strategy is set for makeover, the Conservative Party manifesto made clear they were open to looking at Apprenticeship Levy reform and both the National Audit Office and Public Accounts Committee are explicit regarding the need for change. In addition, UK Government already openly broadcasts that it receives circa £26 to £28 for every pound invested in apprenticeships. It’s an obvious and easy win for the new Government’s budget and Ms Coupland is absolutely right to call for the opportunity to be taken now.”

 

The recent independent UK utility sector research on its adaption to the Levy, authored by Professor David Way, showed clearly that employers are finding the ultimate outcome of the policy reforms – the apprentices themselves – as an improvement on the previous approach. The Apprenticeship Levy mechanism itself however received less favour, with an opaqueness to where employers unspent money is going and many contributing employers simply unable to recover their payments because the policy reforms have not yet developed enough for them to engage. The new Energy & Utility Skills report entitled ‘Test and Adjust’ advised “The predicted funding shortfall for Apprenticeships must be transparent. Any funding gap should be filled by a combination of increased public funding and lowering the payroll threshold to below £3m for employers who contribute to the Apprenticeship Levy. Public funding offers a proven healthy return for the UK economy.”

Ellins continued

The energy and utilities sector employs over half a million people, generates 5% of GDP and contributes £51m annually to the Apprenticeship Levy pot. They have set the standard in delivering successfully against these policy reforms and from the start sought to positively help the Westminster government to ‘test and adjust’ its approach. The new report from Professor Way, sets out clearly for the incoming government, where to adjust the reforms to bring immediate benefits and policy success. Too much time is being spent focusing on the Apprenticeship Levy as an end in itself, what matters is the quality of the talent that emerges into the economy and society, and how effectively the system works for the employers who foot the bill.”

The Apprenticeship reforms have brought undeniable benefits to the employers in our sector, and they wish to accelerate the gains being made by identifying and embedding reforms that will work for the incoming government and for business. Their track record of turning theory into practice makes them a tried and tested partner for government. It is time to step back, draw breath, talk candidly, target the resources and efforts to maximum effect and use this insightful research to help Apprenticeship policy progress to support the needs of the whole UK economy