National Apprenticeship Week blog series: UCEM Principal, Ashley Wheaton, addresses Anne Milton (Minister of State at the Department for Education)

Posted on: 5 March, 2018

Dear Anne Milton

National Apprenticeship Week is the perfect time to take stock of all the excellent work going on around the country to deliver high quality apprenticeships. Since 2015 UCEM has been at the forefront of the agenda to increase the number of higher and degree level apprenticeships to help meet the UK’s demand for technical and professional skills.

In that time with significant commitment we have:

  • Worked with over 120 employers to recruit and train their apprentices, such that we now have over 650 apprentices on programme;
  • Developed a highly innovative delivery model which is flexible and accessible and meets the needs of large and small employers alike;
  • Carried out the acquisition of the Chartered Surveyors Training Trust’s apprenticeship management business, in order to build our capacity for delivering apprenticeships in the Built Environment;
  • Helped employers to diversify and widen their talent pool, attracting young people from non-traditional backgrounds to enter the industry;
  • Adapted our systems and processes to align with the apprenticeships agenda and comply with the requirements of multiple regulators and stakeholders;
  • This success story has all been achieved through delivering just two of the apprenticeship standards which were introduced to replace the previous apprenticeship framework model: Chartered Surveyor and Surveying Technician.

But it is not all good news. There is so much more that could be done to drive the future success of apprenticeships. The example of the Built Environment sector illustrates the point. As of today just 29 of the 87 standards proposed for this sector have been approved for delivery. The number of apprenticeship starts has fallen for seven months in a row compared with the same period in the previous year. And most worryingly, many employers involved in Trailblazer groups have become so frustrated by the lack of progress in obtaining approval for new programmes that that they are increasingly disengaged and reluctant to commit more time and effort to this activity.

Even when there is agreement on a new apprenticeship standard the approval process is inexplicably slow. For example, the Senior Leader Master’s Degree Apprenticeship was formally launched at the Houses of Parliament in early October 2017, but it took a further five months for the funding cap to be formally approved, causing the whole programme to lose momentum. UCEM students who were due to start on programme in March, now have to wait until the Autumn.

There is little time to lose. This time next year many employers will be on the verge of losing substantial unspent Levy funds which will have been accumulating in their accounts since May 2017.

I would call you on you as a matter of urgency to take the following actions:

  • Take immediate steps to deliver on the commitment to place employers in control of apprenticeships, restoring their faith that they can use the system to get the training they need;
  • Translate the aspiration to accelerate approval of apprenticeship standards into real action, cutting out any processes with no added value;
  • Remove unnecessary barriers to take-up, such as the increasing, unwelcome bureaucracy around the requirement to evidence and report on the 20% of apprentices’ time spent on off-the-job training.

I am confident that with a few key changes we could be celebrating even greater success in 12 months’ time.