In our second article about changes to Apprenticeship Training, we discuss the present position and contrast it with the future arrangements
The best way to describe the changes to apprenticeship training may be to outline the present position – one where a Framework of training and learning has to be completed, with qualifications relevant to the sector; Functional Skills in English and Mathematics or GCSE’s; Employment Rights and Responsibilities and Personal Learning and Thinking Skills.
Coupled with both on-the-job and off-the-job training, the candidate should at the end of the programme, be able to function effectively as a member of the workforce and have specific job skills relevant to the role. The job skills should be sufficient that he or she can undertake the relevant job to a standard set within the Framework.
For the Framework to be certified as complete, it must meet legislative requirements within the Specification of Apprenticeship Standards for England – underpinned by Statutory Instrument.
A significant change taking place is the total replacement of the Frameworks over the next few years. These will be replaced by Apprenticeship Standards – which will define an Apprenticeship that lasts a minimum of twelve months; be linked to a specific occupational level; respond to employers needs in defining the knowledge, skills and behaviours required for a specific job role and designed to prepare the apprentice for “end point assessment”, this being the point at which certification will take place.
Two crucial parts to this – the removal of a specific qualification unless a License to Practice is needed and the independent End Point Assessment evidence just how radical Ministers have been prepared to be in making the changes.
Presently, every apprentice has generally undergone exactly the same training – regardless of the skills he or she may have at the outset. There have been some opportunities to recognise prior learning, but in practice they have not been taken up. Reducing the elements of the qualification delivered is difficult to evidence to the satisfaction of awarding bodies and providers have a financial interest in delivering the whole programme.
Shifting the emphasis to the skills and capabilities required at the end of the process gets away from what can be a “tick box” approach, trudging through Units of a qualification regardless of relevance.
The emphasis being transferred to employers driving the Standards will ensure irrelevant material is removed from the training, up-to-date methods can be incorporated and employers can be assured the outcome will enhance productivity.
At this time, people undergoing apprenticeships are assessed as their training progresses by the training provider. This is a classic example of providers being able to “mark their own homework” – especially as they are both paid by the Skills Funding Agency and inspected by Ofsted on the achievement rates they produce. There is rigorous oversight by awarding bodies, but a shift to independent End Point Assessment, where the candidate’s skills and capabilities are judged as a whole is both timely and welcome.
Also to be welcomed is the employer playing a more active role in the outcome. This is to be undertaken by the candidate going through a Gateway process, where the employer and the training provider agree he or she is ready to undertake the End Point Assessment. This crucial element will leave behind the position where the training programme ends, the employee is qualified, but much work remains to really get the worker providing a business benefit.
Ownership of the apprentice’s development involving all three parties, apprentice, employer and provider is obviously of great benefit in achieving better outcomes and the apprenticeship reforms are designed to deliver just that.
The Government has sensibly avoided the charge of “throwing baby out with the bathwater” by resisting the urge to do so. The standards are being set by Trailblazer groups chaired by employers, which will be regulated by the newly formed Institute for Apprenticeships.
Early evaluation indicates the Trailblazers have been welcomed and employers have made a positive contribution to progress. Much use has been made of existing “National Occupational Standards” for evolution and refinement. However, some groups have needed to start from a new position, reflecting the adoption of new approaches, products and methods.
Some difficulty has been experienced by Trailblazers as they moved from defining the Key Skills and Behaviours required for employees to devising methods of assessing them. Flexible approaches and input from qualification awarding bodies have been helpful in this regard.
Another skill being demonstrated by Robert Halfon and his colleagues – rarely witnessed in the past – has been that of pragmatism, wanting to get the reforms right, rather than arbitrarily chasing a fixed timescale against all the odds. This is a programme of change that will evolve over the next few years and the Apprenticeship Standards will also retain flexibility and be reviewed in the light of experience and changes to workplace practice, new products and methods.
It is unusual for change being welcomed by those on the receiving end, but there has been a positive response from providers for the thrust of these reforms – especially from Independent Training Providers who have wanted greater flexibility and linkage of apprenticeships to business outcome for some time.
Mark Dawe, Chief Executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers wrote recently “There are many great things about the apprenticeship policy….that we all support, and if done right, it will embed apprenticeships at the heart of England’s skills solution for many years to come”. Commendation indeed.