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Apprenticeship Roundtable Part 5 – Roundtable Report

19 March 2015     London
Hosted by theHRDIRECTOR.
Chaired by Jason Spiller.

Julie Hyett, Early Careers Programme Manager – Aon Limited
Rebecca Plant, Head of Graduate & Apprenticeship Programmes – Capgemini Uk Plc
Andrew Sage, Talent & Recruitment Manager – Live Nation Entertainment
Kate Sheldon, Head of Talent & Diversity – Telefonica
Andy Smyth, Development Manager Vocational Learning – Tui UK and Ireland
Steve Stewart, Apprentice Lead – GlaxoSmithKline
Anna Talbot, Recruitment Manager (Future Talent ) – Vision Express (Uk) Ltd.
Mike Thompson, Early Careers Director – Barclays Bank
David Willett, Director Of Education & Talent – PDS (A Division Of Global Knowledge)

For many managers working with Apprenticeship programmes, measures to improve the apprenticeships framework are expected. But the scale and speed of Government intervention could be perceived as increasing red tape and “all tinkering and noise”, quite the opposite of what is intended and indeed, needed.

The fear is that, with greater onus on employers to do all the running, stakeholder interests could be compromised which could significantly lose momentum. Lest we forget, the primary purpose of a business is to make a profit and consequently the primary driver of apprenticeships must be to have competent, trained and skilled employees in a sustainable and business needs-led way. Many measures, policies and procedures have been introduced to make employers more accountable, but are they practical and achievable?

What should we expect from the trailblazers’ pilot? As the trailblazers set the scene for apprenticeships, what are delegates hoping will come from the pilot in the pursuit of providing a lead to improving procedures, operations and outcomes?

Julie Hyett: We have chaired the insurance Trailblazer and we have already recruited our cohort start on the Trailblazer this October. We had an existing framework and what we’ve discovered through the journey is that it wasn’t for us a complete revolution in redesigning what was actually the content of Trailblazer, it was more an evolution of what we had. We took out a lot of stuff that wasn’t necessary, and we’ve made it simpler and we think we’ve made it more robust.

Victoria Naylor: Trailblazers has opened up areas of business that we wouldn’t have apprenticeships in before, particularly if you look at areas like commercial banking which is a complex area of the business. We are still piloting level 6, and all our apprenticeships are giving really good feedback, in terms of quality and performance.

Andy Smyth: It’s triggered a process to ensure that the old style national occupational standards that were slow to reflect change and emerging needs are being challenged and now starting to genuinely reflect what industries actually need. Government never actually said this was employer responsibility for skills, but as people have got more involved employers are openly stating their dissatisfaction. BIS has got to stop interfering if they really want employers to own this, they’ve got to allow us to create what we want.

David Willett: It’s really refreshing to see the job roles and the functionality streamlined, but I think we’ve got the question mark about standards going forward, about the maintenance of those standards and their upkeep. Where in a previous life the sector bodies were paid and had a responsibility for keeping those updated, I think that’s fallen through a gap in the pavement somewhere. The standards actually need to be maintained in the future. Who does it, who is responsible for it, who pays for it? There’s a question mark over that.

Mike Thompson: The assessment model has been very positive because we’ve involved our sector professional body which is the Chartered Bankers Institute. Between all the banks and our professional body, on skills we have come up with a really robust, solid assessment model, far better than probably we would have for any of our in-house courses, and programmes. Government has a high level of assessment, and independence is important which is why the Chartered Institute are important to us, but I’d much prefer the model we’ve got now which is end assessment, not a tick box.

David Willett: So have you got no assessment at all until the end of a 3 year programme? Does that not worry you as an employer?

Mike Thompson: Well they have performance management and that’s what we’ve agreed with Government is the key. And we’ve agreed that performance management rating will feed into the final end assessment.

Julie Hyett: That’s exactly what we’ve done as well, because as financial services, we’re regulated, there’s no question of us having somebody in the business who isn’t competent, it just wouldn’t happen. So we have fed that into the final assessments, that’s the employer piece saying yes, this person is competent. But we went down the same route as financial services, we really connected very well with our professional bodies and we were lucky that they were willing to play such an active part.

David Willett: Official sector bodies will be new to apprenticeships, but if they are the Chartered Institute of the profession, in my mind, I think they’ve probably got some advantage over some of the more traditional awarding organisations.

Steve Stewart: We have worked very closely with other employers, professional bodies and sector skills councils to develop the Trailblazer standard and ensure it fits exactly with what we need in our Industry. We have a Gateway early in the scheme that the apprentice has to pass through to ensure they are operating safely with the right development of technical and behavioural skills. Trailblazers has helped us collaborate with other employers in our industry.

Kate Sheldon: Well we’re not involved in Trailblazers, but this is exactly what we’ve been trying to drive through apprenticeships, the quality of candidates and delivering the skills and capabilities and I believe professional body involvement is the best route to improving standards.

Anna Talbot: We aren’t involved in any Trailblazers either, but the general consensus between everyone in the sector is that the apprenticeship standards need to be able to develop a person to industry standards. We understand that our employees may move around in the sector and the most important part is that when these employees are transferring, they have optics knowledge required to function in their job role.

Andrew Sage: The way we design the apprenticeship programmes at Live Nation Entertainment is giving young people access to real work, and ultimately it’s about developing people for future roles.

But the government has made the point that apprenticeships should be for all ages, and this does reflect the need to re-skill older workers.

Mike Thompson: Indeed and a massive win for us is the simplification of the funding model. The removal of the cap on age now allows us to hire anybody which is why we’re doing the over 50s programme in our level 2 programme that’s trailblazing in September and I think that’s a massive win for any sector to not have to focus just on the young end of the market.

Kate Sheldon: Agreed, the age restriction removal goes a long way to supporting the ageing workforce, and the possibility of offering this opportunity to those who have been out of work for a longer period following redundancy of careering for family is an exciting prospect.

Mike Thompson: This is hiring for us, I don’t think Government money should be used for just re-training people. We’re also going to target people who have been unemployed over 12 months, people who have been made redundant, struggling to get back into work. It will open up apprenticeships far more broadly than they have been historically which is fantastic, it’s been way too focused on 16-24. We’re targeting long term unemployed, because the NEET equivalent of age 50-plus is growing, and this demographic is a great fit for our business.

Victoria Naylor: We’ve never had an age cap, because if you do, you are missing a massive opportunity, and we are looking at returnships too.

Kate Sheldon: Agreed, you can’t ignore the frightening statistics, after the age of 45, if you are not in work, the likelihood of you securing a role is significantly reduced.

David Willett: Look at Kingfisher and B&Q, they’ve been doing this for a long time with an older demographic because they know it makes business sense.

Kate Sheldon: Agreed, this is an opportunity to positively start changing the brand of apprenticeship towards the more professional/commercial end of the spectrum.

Andy Smyth: I’m not going to say I’m anti apprenticeship for older aged workers because I’m not, but I think we’ve got to be very clear about what we describe as an apprenticeship, in terms of a structured pathway to acquire a new profession, to access a different role.

Julie Hyett: Yes, this is the issue we’ve had all along, but the removal of age cap is under reported, that Apprentices can be any age, once that is widely understood, employers can really get behind it.

For sectors that are new to apprenticeships, parity with graduate programmes is a key agenda.

Victoria Naylor: There is still split perceptions, and one of the challenges I’m facing is how to put the apprenticeship programme on a level platform with the graduate programme. Whether apprenticeship or graduate the qualifications are the same, and so the programme must be seen as exemplary and credible.

Rebecca Plant: Indeed, it’s important that not too many things are tagged on, integrity is key.

Steve Stewart: It can be difficult to sell apprenticeships within the business. There is a journey we need to take as stakeholders to promote what apprenticeships can deliver.

Mike Thompson: We are increasingly positioning our apprenticeship programmes as feeders to our graduate programme, because we’ve got the higher apprenticeship now, which is a degree level qualification, we have our own degree programme we’ve been running for eight years.

There’s a danger of relying on stereotyping, there’s much more nuance going on with graduates and apprenticeships.

Andy Smyth: One of the big issues we have at the moment with apprenticeships is confusion from stakeholders. There is lots of evidence to demonstrate that good apprenticeship programmes are absolutely gold standard, making sure that the energy and vibrancy around an apprenticeship is an alternative option, not substandard or trying to be an equal route.

What must be done to convince schools and colleges to provide more guidance to students about apprenticeships?

David Willett: It is an age old problem, the way schools and colleges are gauged on getting students into full-time higher education, and that’s in direct conflict with promoting apprenticeships. In the main, schools are probably ill equipped to provide advice and guidance on apprenticeships.

Andy Smyth: It’s a complex issue, which is why it is tough to crack. When we talk about the educators in schools and let us first of all not get into attacking them, they know their stuff, they’re very caring, very passionate and very good at what they do. However, there are very few apprentices in schools so PR is part of the solution, but it will not work alone. We need to work closely with the education system.

Mike Thompson: To be fair, Government has made huge changes to policy and increasingly schools are being measured on destination data, not just qualifications, and OFSTED is now measuring on careers and provisional advice around apprenticeships. The funding issue is a big one, the sixth-form funding is a massive one and that’s just a historic legacy of how the system works and that needs to be tackled.

Julie Hyett: Government is starting that journey, employers are on that journey. It will be another bumpy journey until we get there, but at least we’ve got something to demonstrate that there is a viable alternative to university.

Andy Smyth: The pathways and processes in schools need to change, the journey for learners needs to change but we’ve got to help them to know where to go, put out some beacons to show the way.

Mike Thompson: Connections and relationships are improving, but it’s going to take time and results demonstrated must be consistently high standard.

Julie Hyett: Employers are engaging locally, it’s turned a full circle with more focus on the local economy. We are looking at potential right on our doorsteps, which leads onto a whole other host of diversity questions which it should do.

Victoria Naylor: I would agree, I mean we work with 100 partner schools, looking at work experience, youth hubs and in terms of changing perceptions of parents and schools, that is a responsibility for businesses.

Andrew Sage: There are schools and colleges that are excellent at building relationships. We recently presented to two colleges and one university at networking events and the lecturers at these educational establishments want to promote our apprenticeship programmes to their best students.

Anna Talbot: We have found getting into schools, and meeting the students and talking to them about the various careers in our sector has been very rewarding and there has been an increase in our applications since doing more of this. It’s about getting out there and shouting about apprenticeships.

Steve Stewart: We’ve been to schools in our 11 different locations, and some of the feedback we’ve had is it feels a little bit disjointed. Plus, there could also be a risk that some of the SMEs are being pushed out of the market for apprentices. I would appreciate a central approach to this.

Andy Smyth: This comes back to the whole Trailblazers conversation, if we start working on behalf of sectors and industries, the governance boards can start building relationships. I think it should be one of the objectives of the Trailblazers governance boards to work in communities.

To what extent have the new measures of funding improved or worsened relationships with providers and funding bodies? The options on the table: a direct model, the paye model or the provider model. What are the pros and cons and the preferred choice overall?

Mike Thompson: We are a trailblazer, using a trailblazer funding model, it’s still going through our provider which is the way we fund at the moment, so it’s going through the old role model. We’re interested to see what the new model will look like operationally.

Andy Smyth: Government has listened, nobody liked the offers on the table so they’ve scrapped those. They are going with a voucher system and I think they are planning for implementation in 2017. Either way, crucially, the funding system must not be an obstacle.

Julie Hyett: There’s two separate issues, the model and the mechanism, and the model is vastly simpler and improved. I think we may well end up with something that looks the same, operates the same, but has a new name and I think most people would be comfortable with that.

Andy Smyth: I think the notion is that the voucher will be easy to use and therefore not get in the way. There is an absolute intention to reduce the amount of data required in order to get into the system and therefore to reduce the amount of effort required to work through the system, so in that respect I think it’s a positive.

And you think that control and autonomy over funding is the absolute way to go, even considering SMES?

Rebecca Plant: The question is, will the new funding mechanisms allow better quality and better practice within our training provider community? The idea of chasing funding or an apprenticeship being free training, I am strongly against, and I hope that it would eradicate some of those practises.

Andy Smyth: I go back to employer ownership, that’s fine for the large employers that are reasonably well informed, but SMEs won’t have people who are dedicated specialists, so they are still going to lean on a supplier base, so we’ve got to make sure that this system doesn’t again create any perverse behaviours.

David Willett: Fundamentally, organisations need to develop talent so that they can be an effective, efficient, productive and profitable business. The funding should be a secondary consideration. Would you all still be running apprenticeships if there wasn’t funding available? The requirement for skills won’t disappear because there isn’t any Government money available to do it, you’ll still have those resourcing requirements.

Andy Smyth: Funding models and systems will not drive quality, quality I think is genuinely in the hands of the consumer. I think it will be learners and employers who actually will have to be responsible for making sure these are high value programmes.

Who should be setting these benchmarks? Should the bis be responsible for setting the agenda?

Julie Hyett: Our professional bodies are very engaged in benchmarking and the accrediting of the training providers and the ultimate sign off of an apprenticeship, although their role is equal to the employer and the training provider in the model. If a particular sector doesn’t have a professional body, the onus will still be on employers to assess and maintain standards. Without a skills or a professional body, the challenge will be greater.

Steve Stewart: In the Life Science Trailblazer, we work very closely with the professional bodies and Cogent and we have also formed the Science Industry Partnership as part of the Employers Ownership of Skills. This has really helped us work together to increase the quality of apprenticeships.

And of course, banks constantly have the fsa breathing down their neck there is no option than to be very transparent.

Victoria Naylor: Working with a professional body has been brilliant from an organisation perspective. Yes we’re hugely regulated, and one of the biggest criticisms during the banking crisis was the lack of people that had banking qualifications and they were in high up positions and so bringing apprenticeships in, you are making sure entry level talent that are regulated from day one.

Mike Thompson: We are now trailblazing our level 2 and level 3 which is aligned to our professional body at entry level. I think we’re just going back to the good old days. Our standards were full of NVQs, previously but nobody recognised them, nobody understood them, they were not recognised by our professional body and didn’t improve the standard of our delivery to clients, so thank goodness for Trailblazers.

Andy Smyth: Our sector is on the same journey of “professionalisation”. The travel industry is full of professionals, but as a sector, our reputation is not great. Professional standards is about having singular representative bodies, and everybody needs to be invested in to meet those standards.

David Willett: Can I ask a question to Mike -where do Ofsted sit in your mind in relation to quality, if you’ve got a professional body as well?

Mike Thompson: My personal view is, I don’t think you need Ofsted in the mix at all if you’ve got a professional body and you’ve got an optic end assessment and employers who’ve got their own strong performance management systems. I think Ofsted is a very blunt instrument, for employers, particularly if you’ve got a separate regulatory framework that sits in your sector assessing.

David Willett: It will be interesting to see how the Government views the role of Ofsted because, if it’s a publicly funded qualification, which Trailblazers are, Ofsted is the instrument to measure the quality assurance. Plus, if Degree Apprenticeships are publicly-funded through BIS, will they therefore be inspected by Ofsted?

Mike Thompson: They are publicly funded anyway. Higher education is just inspected through a different inspection regime, so why create two?

Andy Smyth: Agreed, Ofsted isn’t the tool for direct inspection across the piece, but I think there is a role, to ensure quality, and that any weaknesses that are observed are acted upon.

Do you think 12 months in a single chunk really works? What about part-time and seasonal workers and how does this apply to adults and those transferring industries?

Andy Smyth: I think it’s a very poor measure of quality. Where seasonality is an issue, it is completely unsuitable. It is another example of us wanting to make it measurable, rather than asking and checking when the learner has achieved. We have no issue with the need to gain experience and for people to have that longer period of learning, but this policy literally stopped some businesses in their tracks.

Rebecca Plant: For some of the roles in our sector, you can’t just do a one year apprenticeship and say you are a software developer. You’re actual end point destination, might not be a year, and so I think it should be horses for courses. Even our senior developers will say they are not at the end of their apprenticeship.

Andy Smyth: The issue here is it has to be a single chunk and that’s the problem. We would agree, people with no prior experience or learning are not normally competent in less than 12 months and actually we would generally say an apprentice with us always does two years because they do what we would class as a level 2, followed by a level 3 as a mandatory process – it’s the chunking not the duration. It was a knee jerk policy decision.

David Willett: Absolutely agree, a software developer as an example is not going to be fully competent in 12 months.

Andy Smyth: What we do want though is a structure and a mechanism that allows everybody to have access to the opportunity.

Victoria Naylor: We have a lot of part-time workers, we have a lot of job shares, and we do fund apprenticeships and professional qualifications for people who are on compressed hours, shorter hours and having different working patterns. In the banking industry you absolutely know whether it’s three years, 18 month, or 12 months, as we do need people to be doing a full qualification.

Steve Stewart: It’s a problem I’ve not come across to be honest in GSK. We operate in a complex industry so most of our apprenticeships are three years if not four.

Kate Sheldon: It must be aligned with building a more flexible and inclusive work force.

Andy Smyth: The policy is another blunt instrument. Twelve months fits the academic delivery of a qualification and a level, but we all know there are lots of holidays and breaks in there, so it’s a completely unequal measure to impose. Common sense, hopefully, will prevail.

Are all stake holders pushing in the same direction, in terms of moving apprenticeships along, improving the brand and uptake. How much running can employers do?

Julie Hyett: I would counter that actually, everywhere you look apprenticeships is a good story. Government is fulfilling its pledge to promote not just for the traditional trades, but in professional services too. But I do wonder why NAS hasn’t taken ownership.

Andy Smyth: Is this not what the LEPs are all about? Should they not do that local engagement? Can they not actually ring fence a dedicated fund for this?

David Willett: I would be interested to get employers’ view about apprenticeship minimum wage.

Rebecca Plant: I think for us it was a strategic decision anyway that you don’t pay national minimum wage, because they are valuable resources, they are adding benefit to our organisation and they’re not cheap labour, they are part of a business strategy so you reward them accordingly.

Julie Hyett: I never understood the distinction as to why an apprentice should be paid less than somebody else doing the same job.

Rebecca Plant: We actually have to keep up with market rates, we cannot bring an apprentice in and keep them at the same salary for the next three years. To make apprenticeships work you’ve got to be aware of what market is dictating for skills.

David Willett: If parents hear that the apprenticeship wage has been increased from £2.73 to £3.30, the perception is apprenticeships can’t be very good.

Does that not suggest that has to be one other thing that the employer must take ownership of?

David Willett: Well, we’ve got the Living Wage in this country which is almost double. That I think would be fine. There is a very ethical way via the ATA model. Apprentices at Unilever for example, are employed by the ATA, they spend all of their time in Unilever, and our first cohort have just all completed, 97 percent of them went straight into full-time Unilever jobs.

Other than wage rates, what are the causes of the failure to complete programmes and how must this be redressed?

Andy Smyth: If you recruit the right candidate for the right programme, the likelihood is if you treat them correctly as all of us good employers would, they’ll stay. I do think there are instances where that isn’t the case and the obligation on Government here is to identify poor practice and stamp it out.

Julie Hyett: The dropout rate is a headline number and it will attract a lot of criticism, but I would imagine it’s no different to students or going on to further education.

Rebecca Plant: A lot businesses just look at qualifications. But it’s about strengths-based profiling and the right aptitude. Only time will tell whether this improves outcomes, but it is promising.

Andy Smyth: We talked of brand and statistics like this damaging the brand. In the future, you will see all this good stuff that we’ve just talked about; right person, right role, good consistent standards, and that will win through in the end.

Andrew Sage: Doesn’t this link to ineffective selection? Unsuitable candidates should be responded to stating that they may not be ready for apprenticeships, but to reapply in the future for re-assessment when they have developed more.

Victoria Naylor: We’ve started putting apprenticeship candidates through our graduate recruitment process where you have values testing, motivational fit and strengths testing.

Andy Smyth: We really need a journey for the learner that allows certain drop off or exit points, and what we’ve got to do is to stop trying to have such a long range forecast, so that we can actually get achievable bite-sizes that allow a person to fill up their own kit bag, and then take the next step.

How much of the trailblazing by big corporates is relevant or realistic for smes?

Andy Smyth: Going back to the new voucher system, this will take time to gather momentum, and we need a stable model, then we can provide informative stats.

Steve Stewart: The positive stories of what apprentices are achieving will do the running, perhaps a coordinated approach may be led by NAS – what value an apprentice adds to your business would be a great start.

Julie Hyett: The positive messages are out there but disappointingly, it fuels very little press coverage, even during National Apprenticeship Week.

Employers need to be able to provide a viable alternative route into the workplace through higher level skills. The business case for higher apprenticeship is sound, but there are a number of existing models of higher apprenticeship, for example, foundation degrees and full degrees and there could be new and emerging models too. What is the best route forward?

David Willett: Degree apprenticeships are being launched with a funding model that makes the business case for a traditional higher apprenticeship flawed. If as an employer who had already decided that your business needs higher level skills at level 4, 5 or 6 or above, and you’ve got a clear business requirement and the business case is sound compared to a traditional graduate model, if you factor in things like retention, and contribution you get for employer training, there’s a sound business case for most higher apprenticeship programmes, which is why most large employers have started doing them.

Kate Sheldon: It’s early days, obviously universities want to make sure that your candidates are fit for their brand and we want to make sure that they are providing the right skills that’s actually going to provide the right capabilities, but the potential is exciting.

Andy Smyth: Issues are only just starting to surface. If you go into a higher education programme then you will get a Cert HE after a year, after two years you’ll get a Foundation degree, and three years you’ll get an Honours degree. If you enrol on a degree level apprenticeship or even a higher level apprenticeship that includes a degree, you will be classed as a leaver/non-achiever, unless you get all the way to the end. We’ve got to make sure that we set the programme up right, otherwise we design failure.

Do apprenticeships need to be associated with degrees to gain credibility?

Julie Hyett: Government has said you’ve got an equal choice, one or the other. Why do we have to say that the really, really good apprenticeship is a degree apprenticeship. You know, what’s wrong with a higher apprenticeship?

Rebecca Plant: For me it’s purely a way of getting more people diverted into the apprenticeship degree as opposed to university degree.

Andy Smyth: What will happen is we will all develop programmes that will go to the levels that we need them to and that’s the right and proper process. The realities are we will work out what we need over time.

David Willett: It was an absolute policy crash, and it’s a very difficult landscape. Tech Partnership, which was leading on this initiative was very reassuring, that this was sustainable, in terms of the long-term of degree apprenticeships, so watch this space.

Julie Hyett: I think we’re going in the right direction, we’ve got to a very positive point where apprenticeships are established in our industry, we’re supporting the rest of our industry but we see it as our responsibility to develop the Trailblazers and they will be published eventually. I think there’s still gaps, there’s still very big gaps in policy.

Kate Sheldon: I think the demand and value of apprenticeships will increase because of the Trailblazing. It is always about how we get the right people with the right skills in the right place at the right time at the right cost, which ever programme you offer.

Andy Smyth: Trailblazers is definitely the right direction but we’ve all got some concerns with the system, the mechanism and the process. We are going to need to remain quite tenacious about what we want. If I was to make a plea to Government it would be trust the trailblazers to create what they want and what they need, don’t continuously hinder us, work with us on how we can really bring apprenticeships to have a position that everybody can see is high quality and high value.

David Willett: For the last 100 years in this country, employers have developed skills, knowledge and behaviour through apprenticeship and that will undoubtedly continue for the next 100 years.

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