Understanding apprenticeships

Robin Jackson, Land based Industry Manager at City & Guilds, explains how the new apprenticeship standard works

Most employers will be aware of apprenticeships as a means of taking on new staff and then providing them with the knowledge and skills appropriate for that business. In essence, they are a formal training scheme that allows businesses to grow and develop their own talent.

Transition period

However, for employers who might not have been an apprentice themselves, or have not taken on an apprentice, the process can feel complex and mysterious. Currently, the system is going through a period of transition in England from what are known as frameworks onto new standards. This period of transition will end on 31st July 2020, after which only standards will be available. To understand the difference requires a brief history lesson.

Until recently, apprenticeship frameworks in England required apprentices to spend time developing their skills and knowledge on- and off-the-job, achieve a work-based Diploma qualification, demonstrate a good level of English and Maths, and complete an employment rights and responsibilities workbook. Employers would work with a training provider (either a college or an independent training provider) to source an apprentice; the training provider would then manage the apprentice’s programme, with the main qualification being externally quality assured and certificated by an awarding body, such as City & Guilds. Once the training provider had evidence the apprentice had achieved everything required, the training provider would then claim the apprentice’s completion certificate.

Richard Review of Apprenticeships

However, following feedback from employers that in general apprenticeships were not supplying them with work ready employees, in 2012 the Richard Review of Apprenticeships recommended to the Government that employers are more directly involved, making them central in both the design and the delivery of new apprenticeship programmes. The outcome were apprenticeship standards in England, although it is worth noting that the current apprenticeship programmes being used in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are continuing as they are at present.

These standards are developed by groups of employers and intended to be short, concise and easy to understand. They describe the skills, knowledge and behaviours required for an individual to be considered fully competent in a specific occupation/named job role. Associated with each standard is an assessment plan, also designed by the same employer group, which sets out how each apprentice will be rigorously and independently assessed to determine competency. The standards and their associated assessment plans are published on the Institute for Apprenticeships website once they are approved and ‘available to deliver’.

There are some things that remain the same, irrespective of whether the apprentice is on a framework or a standard. They must have a contract of employment, work at least 30 paid hours a week, undertake a minimum of 20% off-the-job learning, be an apprentice for at least 12 months and paid be at least the national minimum wage for the time they are in work and in off-the-job training. However, there are some differences associated with the new standards, the most fundamental being the change from continuous assessment throughout the apprenticeship, to the entire assessment being undertaken at the end (referred to as independent end-point assessment). 

Open to all ages

To take on an apprentice, an employer now needs to identify the most appropriate standard that relates to the job role they wish to fill and which is ‘available to deliver’, for example, Landscape Operative. (Employers are not able to access funding or the levy to pay for an apprenticeship programme they develop themselves.) They then need to identify a training provider that is on the Register of Approved Training Providers (ROAPT) and subsequently agree a price for the total cost of the apprenticeship, including the training costs. There are no age restrictions on becoming an apprentice, as long as the individual is 16 years old and they can be either a new or a current employee.

The employer, training provider and apprentice must work collaboratively together whilst the apprentice is ‘on-programme’ to ensure that the apprentice develops the required knowledge, skills and behaviours. Apprentices no longer necessarily have to achieve a qualification as part of their programme, unless the standard states there are mandatory qualifications. 

End point assessment

Once all three agree that the apprentice has become competent and met all mandatory requirements identified in the standard, the apprentice has reached what is known as the Gateway and is ready for end-point assessment. This must be undertaken by an organisation that is independent of the employer, training provider and apprentice. The employer must select this organisation from the Register of End Point Assessment Organisations, and then the training provider contracts with this organisation on behalf of the employer. The independent assessment organisation undertakes the end-point assessment in line with the requirements of the assessment plan. If the apprentice is successful, the assessment organisation will request the apprentice’s completion certificate.

What is evident is the central role employers now play in making decisions that influence their apprentice’s training and assessment. For those employers who pay the apprenticeship levy (i.e. those with a wage bill >£3M per year), they can use their levy payment to pay for the apprentice’s training programme and end-point assessment. For those smaller employers who do not pay the levy, they are able to access up to 90% of the maximum available funding, but must pay pro-rata the remaining 10% (known as ‘co-funding’). However, in the recent budget statement, The Chancellor of the Exchequer announced that at some point in 2019, this employer contribution will be reduced to 5%. This may be enough incentive to encourage currently hesitant employers to consider engaging with apprenticeships to shape their business to address future challenges.

For more details on apprenticeships please visit 

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