Paula Rowland, MD of Axia Solutions, writes:
The apprenticeship levy has come under severe criticism from many key levy employers who see it as a tax or at best a way of facilitating training in the narrowest of senses with a restriction on how funds can be used. Both of these perceptions are, to a degree, correct and even companies who are engaging with the scheme can struggle to spend their full contribution. According to reports more than £1.5 billion has been paid into the apprenticeship levy with over £1.3 billion of funding still sitting unused in the National Apprenticeship Service accounts. It surely permits questioning levy paying employers as to whether they may be missing an opportunity to convert this substantial pot into a benefit and make it work for them. In April 2019 the unspent funds will of course begin to ebb away and be lost to forever.
Over the last 18 months Training Providers have struggled to stay afloat as the initial reduction in take-up of apprenticeships of 60% compared to the previous year, took its toll. In part this has acted as a clearing of the ground as some of the poorer quality providers have ceased trading. However, some very fine training organisations have also been lost as they are forced to wrap up services which, for many years, served the work place well.
To stay afloat amidst the brutal reduction in apprenticeship numbers the savvy Training Provider has needed to adapt their approach very quickly. The positive slant on this for employers is that there has never been a better time to get the training to do what it really needs to do. Company HR and Operations Directors are now empowered to demand an apprenticeship provision that supports their strategic objectives, helps future proof the organisation and is appropriately customised to suit the specific operation. At Axia we have worked very hard to develop a consultative approach to training. Some of our clients are amongst the nation’s leading manufacturing and logistics companies and have embraced the changes, working with us to get a fit for purpose training plan in place. Business for us has been slower but results have, so far, been good. Staff retention rates amongst trainees are high as over 90% of our employed learners stick with and successfully achieve the qualification. In one of our companies the internal progression rate has risen by 20% amongst trainees indicating that training not only helps to retain but it also helps to equip the individual to move up through the organisation.
My plea to Business is that it invests time in holding a dialogue with the receptive Training Provider and articulates what it wants to achieve. The effective Training organisation will be able to interpret this and produce a solution. If the Business comes to appreciate the control they have and uses it constructively then training for training’s sake will be replaced by staff development that is inextricably linked to improving efficiency and productivity.