Apprenticeship Service to open doors to SMEs

Shaun Wadsworth, training manager, CFA

The access to the Apprenticeship Service for SMEs has been widened with an announcement late in 2019 by ESFA.

WITH the introduction of Trailblazer Apprenticeship Standards, the employer was put front and centre in regard to the design, development and assessment of apprenticeships in England. For floorlaying this was achieved by 10 CFA members with the support of CITB to establish a new apprenticeship standard for flooring which is now live and in use.

The level of control an employer has on an apprenticeship will also change in the next few months with some changes currently being made by the ESFA.

The access to the Apprenticeship Service for SMEs has been widened with the announcement late in 2019 by ESFA (Education and Skills Funding Agency) that in 2020, SMEs (small and medium businesses enterprises, those that don’t pay the Apprenticeship Levy) can now access more of the benefits available through the free to use Apprenticeship Service.

This is great news for SMEs and something most employers will be glad to hear, after all there are 5.5m businesses in the UK and 99% of these are SMEs. Nobody understands the skills employers need for their staff better than the employers themselves and with a phased approach to the Apprenticeship Service it will allow for a more gradual transition.

But what is the Apprenticeship Service?
The Apprenticeship Service is designed to help businesses looking to employ an apprentice access apprenticeship standards, training providers and funding through an online service account. This had previously been ringfenced to employers who pay the Apprenticeship Levy (any business with a wage bill for employees of over £3m pounds) but is now being opened up to SMEs not paying the levy.

The Apprenticeship Service puts, you the employers in control and allows you to choose the type of apprenticeship you want to run, the number of apprentices you want to take on and the training provider that suits your needs.

How does this affect my business?
In short, it gives you control of your apprenticeships. SMEs have always had access to some of the Apprenticeship Service functions such as the ‘find an apprentice’ feature which gives you access to over 2.6m citizens who have signed up to the service in an effort to find an apprenticeship. But now the ESFA is opening up the Apprenticeship Service to employers of all sizes putting employers in the driving seat.

You’ll be required to register and create a digital account. It’s important to point out this won’t affect the funding you receive for apprentices that you employ, you’ll still have to co-invest as you’d have done before. For a reminder of the different funding option for apprenticeships there’s detailed table in the Contract Flooring Industry – Training Guide 2020.
Through this digital account employers can:

Manage their apprenticeship funding;
Select a suitable apprenticeship standard and an end point assessment organisation;
Create and advertise apprenticeship vacancies;
Select a suitable provider to deliver their apprenticeship training;
Give real-time feedback on the quality of training provision they receive;
Have control over the amount of apprenticeship funding paid to their training provider on their behalf, so there’s better intelligence to maximise their apprenticeship training spend
provide government with apprenticeship demand data to ensure a valuable apprenticeship marketplace.

What is the timeline for these changes?
Any new apprenticeship starts for SMEs (that don’t pay the apprenticeship levy) recorded on the Apprenticeship Service during the period January to March 2020 are being funded from an additional budget that’s been made available to support the transition. This budget will allow for up to 15,000 new apprenticeship starts before the end of March.

Currently, SMEs are able to select their apprenticeship training from all main provider organisations and institutions that remain listed in the register of apprenticeship training providers (RoATP).

It’s important to note employers will only be able to make this selection, and reserve funding, for apprentices that will be training using new Trailblazer Apprenticeship Standards.

Past March 2020, there’ll be full transition of employers onto the Apprenticeship Service. This will undoubtably give small- and medium-sized businesses a greater choice and the opportunity to have more control over apprenticeship training decisions for their businesses in the future. After all it’s the employers that understand the real needs of the floorlaying sector and this hopefully will give ESFA greater insight into the skills needs of a wider range of businesses which will in turn help remove some of the barriers employers have when recruiting an apprentice.
Where can I find out more?

There is lots of information about the changes in accessing the Apprenticeship Service, most of which coming through government and their website(s):

There’s also email and social media links as well as a helpline.
A dedicated YouTube channel: esfagovuk
Twitter account: @ESFAdigital
Phone: 0800 0150600
Finally, you can contact the CFA and speak to me for more information.
0115 9411126