Principal Thoughts: a look back at National Apprenticeship Week 2018

Posted on: 9 April, 2018

Welcome to the latest edition of Ashley Wheaton’s ‘Principal Thoughts’. This time, Ashley looks back at the 11th National Apprenticeship Week – during which employers, apprentices and training providers from across England came together to celebrate the success of apprenticeships.

At UCEM, we’re hugely passionate about encouraging more people to choose apprenticeships as a pathway to a successful career. National Apprenticeship Week (NAW) is the perfect time to take stock of all the excellent work going on 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. We celebrated NAW by hosting a series of employer and apprentice case study blogs and testimonials, announced our partnership with AECOM and ESFA to launch a joint apprenticeship scheme, and published five open letters to key ministers (recapped below).


Monday: a letter to Anne Milton, Minister of State at the Department for Education, on the falling number of apprenticeship starts and lack of approved standards

In this letter, I summarise just how UCEM has helped support apprenticeships and look ahead at what else needs to be done to drive the future success of apprenticeships.

As of today, just 29 of the 87 standards proposed for this sector have been approved for delivery. And 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 call on Anne Milton, 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.

You can read my full letter addressing Anne Milton, here.


Tuesday: a letter to Greg Clarke, Secretary of State Business and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), on productivity and the industrial strategy

The Industrial Strategy White Paper published late last year recognised the importance of the Built Environment to the UK economy. In particular, it proposed investing more in construction training, increasing the National Productivity Investment Fund to support transport and housing developments, and boosting digital infrastructure to encourage the roll-out of full-fibre networks.

Underpinning the strategy was the recognition that the UK’s productivity lags 20-30% behind that of our main competitors such as Germany, France and the USA, and radical action is required to bridge this gap.

In this letter, I highlight how the Government’s agenda is not sufficiently aligned with the vision of the Industrial Strategy and that the apprenticeships system needs to be fully engaged in supporting the construction skills agenda.

My recommendation for BEIS, is to work more quickly and effectively with employer groups and the Institute for Apprenticeships, to ensure that approval of apprenticeship standards is accelerated in those industries.

You can read my full letter addressing Greg Clark here


Wednesday: a letter to Damien Hinds, Secretary of State for Education, on funding and cash flow

UCEM has positively embraced the challenge of delivering degree programmes in a new context, working closely with our extensive network of employers in construction and real estate to meet their training needs. Part of this challenge has been to navigate a different funding model, securing funds initially from the ESFA via repeated procurement exercises, then working with employers to allocate the funds in their Levy accounts.

In this letter, I discuss how recent decisions by Government have only served to make the financial viability of these programmes even more marginal for universities.

Here are three simple recommendations to ensure that apprenticeship provision is properly funded and financially sustainable for institutions:

  • When setting any funding cap, ensure there is an effective process for consulting with providers to check that the supply-side is actually able to deliver the standard for the fee level proposed;
  • Align the funding cap as a minimum with the equivalent level of fees for educational programmes for non-apprenticeship provision, i.e. fund all Level 6 degree apprenticeships at £27,000;
  • Reduce the 20% retention to a value that more accurately reflects the cost of the end-point assessment.

You can read my full letter addressing Damien Hinds here


Thursday: a letter to Sam Gyimah, Minister for Higher Education, on reducing bureaucracy and overregulation to increase diversity and inclusion

Providing truly accessible, relevant, cost-effective education is at the heart of UCEM’s core purpose. In this letter, I summarise how there are currently just too many barriers for those from disadvantaged backgrounds wishing to pursue the great opportunities that  apprenticeships can offer.

UCEM has been fully committed to the apprenticeships agenda since the surveying standards were launched in 2015. But we have been dismayed to find that the apprenticeships system is managed according to a low-trust, compliance-driven model that stifles innovation and discourages providers from working with those who could benefit the most from the programmes available.

There are many improvements to the apprenticeships system that the Government could make to increase take-up and improve access. A good start would be to:

  • Remove artificial barriers that prevent providers from working with non-levy paying employers;
  • Reduce the compliance burden on providers wishing to use subcontracting arrangements, where these improve outcomes for apprentices;
  • Rationalise the procurement system whereby providers are required to spend valuable resources on repeated, unnecessary bidding processes;
  • Stop allowing government agencies to take money out of the system for activities that provide no added value to the apprentice.

You can read my full letter addressing Sam Gyimah here


Friday: a letter to Philip Hammond (Chancellor of the Exchequer)

As part of National Apprenticeship Week, it’s only right that we celebrated the successes. Just this month at UCEM, we enrolled an additional 80 degree apprentices onto the Chartered Surveyor standard.

However, nationally the number of apprenticeship starts has fallen for seven consecutive months compared with the same period in the previous year. Employers are becoming increasingly frustrated by the lack of progress in obtaining approval for new programmes and the likelihood that they will now be faced with the real prospect of losing some (or all) of their levied funds

In this letter to the Chancellor, referencing how he recently hosted the first advisory group of the National Retraining Partnership, I put some requests forward including:

  • Look closely at the great benefits which would come from approving the existing apprenticeship standards for construction and real estate;
  • Enable a fully functioning apprenticeship model as a key part of developing the skills which the Industrial Strategy so desperately requires;
  • Engage with education providers who are committed to delivering apprenticeships to understand the challenges, which are preventing the agenda from being more successful than it currently is.

You can read my full letter addressing Philip Hammond here

National Apprenticeship Week has been a wonderful and positive reinforcement of the powerful impact that the apprenticeship agenda can have. But it’s also highlighted where we are winning and losing – and if we fail, the UK won’t have the skills needed to address the housing crisis or ensure the infrastructure needed to do business in the 21st century. Let’s get the remaining standards approved and create many more amazing successes in 2018 and beyond.

At UCEM, we are committed to contributing to a better Built Environment through high quality education. For more updates, make sure you’re following us on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn for all the latest news.

And you can read up on our series of employer and apprentice case study blogs here.