Demographic shifts, such as lengthening lifespans leading to longer working lives and developments in work, including the rise of the robots, all reinforce the trend towards people having several different careers.
As a result there is a need for new professional skills at all stages of one’s career, and with few of us rich enough to take time out for academic education, they need to be learned while we continue to work. No longer does an apprentice have to be someone at the beginning of their working life, they may just be at the beginning of a new chapter. This change is already underway; according to government statistics 43% of all new apprentices in 2015/16 were aged 25-plus, and of these, 11% were over 60.
In order to address these developments, vocational training is getting a shake-up, with changes to apprenticeships at the heart of things, including their funding, specification, delivery and assessment. The process is becoming formalised, with a government bill defining what an apprenticeship is and more oversight to ensure every party involved is playing by the rules.
One of the biggest changes is that an apprenticeship can now be undertaken at a level below, equal to or above the current level of attainment. Previously apprenticeships had to be taken at a higher level than the highest previous level of educational attainment.
“That is qualitatively different from before,” says BPIF programme director Ursula Daly. “For people looking to reskill it is particularly useful. For example, someone with an apprenticeship covering finishing can now go through a printing apprenticeship. Under the previous rules that wouldn’t have been possible. Someone who has a degree could retrain.
“It is a huge big deal, and because there is no upper age limit and with people working later and later, people who are 50-60 no longer need to think they are just holding out for retirement, they can retrain.
“It also addresses the changes in the industry, with some parts shrinking and others growing. It enables people to retrain to gain the new skills needed, for example IT or social media.
“Careers are not as linear as they were before. A pre-press operator could retrain to run a press. They may need some specific training but they will also be able to use some of their existing skills. It creates opportunities.”
Another change is that now 20% of an apprentice’s working time must be spent in off the job training. The loose definition of that is anything that is non-productive. An example would be a trainee at a coffee shop. Drinks produced that couldn’t be sold to customers while learning would be classed as non-productive training. As soon as what they make can be sold it is considered to be productive time.
“It is a big change and some say it is overly onerous,” says Daly. “Behind it is the laudable aim, to ensure active learning. What is problematic is providing the evidence of how that time has been spent.”
That 20% is roughly one day per week, however, it doesn’t have to be spread evenly over the course of the apprenticeship, and nor does it all have to be in a classroom, things that count as non-productive time include any induction process, shadowing, mentoring, assignments and research.
Take from me the levy
Funding has also undergone a number of big changes. The most well known is the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy, which came into force in April. However, as the 0.5% of payroll, which is deducted by HMRC, is only relevant to firms with a payroll over £3m per annum, for most print firms it won’t be an issue. By now every company liable for the levy should be paying it, and they should be seeing the funds appearing in their digital training accounts. Anyone unsure of their payroll and whether they are paying and receiving the credits should check with their finance department.
Following on from the introduction of the Levy are changes in the funding for apprenticeships themselves. The document that describes all the changes is 37pp long.
Daly counsels that a lot of the detail in the official documentation can be safely skipped. She does however advise paying attention to the plethora of new contracts that have been introduced between the government and the employer, employer and training provider, employer and the apprentice and a three-way contract between the apprentice, employer and provider, for which the BPIF has templates, if required.
“I encourage everyone to read these contracts and to understand any risks; you need to be aware of what you are signing,” she says.
There are several categories of funding. Levy-paying employers use the funds taken from their levies and transferred to their digital accounts to pay for the costs of training. They also receive a further 10% boost from the government. Non levy-paying employers, or levy-paying employers who have spent all that is in their digital account pay 10% of the training costs and the government pays the remaining 90%.
Additionally, if any firm with fewer than 50 staff takes on an apprentice between 16-18 years old then the government pays 100% of the costs of training. If you take on a 16-18-year-old there is also a £1,000 incentive paid to the employer.
Blazing a trail
One of the most confusing aspects of the changes is the introduction of Trailblazer Apprenticeships, a process that has now been rumbling on for several years. The idea is to get more employer input into the content and delivery of the apprenticeships, through the formation of employer-led groups, which followed on from industry feedback that things had become too distant from the employers’ reality.
The print industry has gone down the Trailblazer route and is in the process of developing a new apprenticeship, which is expected to be approved and ready for delivery in 2018.
The new scheme will replace the three existing apprenticeships covering pre-press, printing and finishing with a single course comprising a core with options for the three specialist areas.
There will be a period of transition while Trailblazer Apprenticeships are developed during which time the old courses will remain, so there will be no cliff edge when training is unavailable.
“This is the most confusing bit,” says Daly. “Old apprenticeships are now known as frameworks, while new style apprenticeships are known as standards.”
All apprenticeships currently on offer are frameworks, and they will continue to be available. There will be an overlap when the standards come in too, of at least 12 months, to ensure that there is no risk that there won’t be any relevant courses available as the system transitions. A further consideration is that the devolved nations of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have chosen not to participate in the Trailblazer programme.
A big difference between the new and the old schemes is how they are assessed, with a move from continuous assessment to independent end-point assessment.
This is a change that is creating a certain amount of unease, in particular whether it is the right approach for vocational rather than academic training.
“I’m comfortable with the independent assessment, but I worry about end-point assessment,” says Daly. “ While an academic achiever may take that in their stride, my concern is that we will lose some apprentices along the way for the wrong reasons. Previously there have been people who struggled at school who thrived on an apprenticeship.”
The other issue is there are no mandatory qualifications, and that an apprenticeship in itself is not a qualification. In new apprenticeships there is only a qualification if it is a legal requirement, for example for gas fitting.
“We feel that people should have something at the end of the programme,” says Daly. “It is possible to deliver a qualification, but it has to be at no cost to the employer.”
Daly doesn’t believe there is any cause for concern about the changes, nor disruption to training or businesses’ training plans: “There is lots of change, and it is frustrating, but there is no great drama and there is a way through it. Talk to any training provider and we will work with you to find a way through.”
And the evidence suggests that that is the approach being taken: “We’ve got more learners on our books at the moment than at any time since I’ve been involved, and based on the conversations we are having interest continues to be above average.”
Bell & Bain shows it’s good to train
“What brings you down is lack of skills,” says Glasgow-based book printer Bell & Bain managing director Stephen Docherty. “The cost [of running a business] without apprenticeships and training is outrageous.”
He gives a simple example of how trained staff can boost the bottom line: “Every job here is skilled, I think that is why we have such a low spoilage rate.
“Last year our spoilage was £23,000 on a turnover of £13m. I’ve worked in places where the spoilage was £30,000 per month.”
The firm’s belief in the value of apprentices is clear in the number in the business, with 13 out of an overall staff of 127.
One of those is 19-year-old Ross, Docherty’s youngest son, who has been with the business for three years as a post-press apprentice, and is assistant manager in the bindery. He won Enterprise Scotland’s (GES) Apprentice Awards in April. He is an example of the positives of vocational training and proof that a degree isn’t essential to get on. His sister is also in the business, and her dad feels the contrast between his two kids highlights the pluses of apprenticeships.
“She’s got a degree in cell biology but her opportunities were limited,” he says. “She was using some of those skills working for a food company but the wages weren’t good. If she’d got an apprenticeship rather than a degree she’d have had a better wage and more skills.”
This is no place to debate vocational versus academic education, however it’s clear that Bell & Bain finds apprenticeships invaluable, despite the odd hiccup.
“We lose a few along the way and there’s nothing worse than losing someone after two years and the investment you’ve put into them,” he says. “But everyone who’s been through the scheme and every penny spent has been a good investment.”