With the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy only a few months away, an alarming number of organisations are still unprepared for its launch. 

The Levy, which seeks to boost the UK’s productivity by enhancing the relevant skills of the country’s workforce, will not only bring changes to the way Apprenticeships are funded, but also in how they’re structured and assessed. 

In this guide, we’ll take a look at the new ‘Trailblazer’ apprenticeship standards that are in the process of being rolled out and highlight the key differences between these and the current apprenticeship frameworks. 

Apprenticeship Levy Frameworks and standards 

Currently, apprenticeship training is carried out under the SASE (Specification of Apprenticeship Standards for England) framework system. However, in an effort to boost employer engagement and provide training that will better-complement an organisation’s workforce development needs, these are in the process of being replaced. 

One of the key findings of the 2012 Richard Review of Apprenticeships in England was the need for significant improvements in making Apprenticeship programmes more responsive to the needs of employers. 

As such, a new series of Trailblazer standards are being created in conjunction with groups of employers that provide tailored training initiatives for various occupations within their sectors. The process is ongoing and if you’re interested in helping to develop a standard for your sector, you can find out how to join an existing Trailblazer group or form your own by following the instructions in the government’s guidance on the programme. 


Current frameworks will stay in place until their Trailblazer equivalents come into force and if you’re currently signed up to an SASE framework, the way funding is provided and the structure of the Apprenticeship will remain as is until it’s complete. The government aims to replace all existing frameworks with a suite of standards and there will be a transitional phase, where both frameworks and standards run in conjunction, has been discussed, however, there’s no firm details on this as of yet. 

Similarly, the Apprenticeship Grant for Employers (which provides additional funding for certain businesses taking on 16 to 24-year-olds) has been extended until July 2017. It’s important to note that the way that this is delivered can differ, depending on the local authority administering it, so it’s well worth checking your eligibility before taking this grant for granted. 

With the Apprenticeship Levy’s introduction in April, employers will also no longer need to pay any National Insurance Contributions for apprentices they employ who are under the age of 25. 

Apprenticeship Levy FundingApprenticeship Levy Funding 

The Apprenticeship Levy’s introduction will also bring a raft of changes to the way apprenticeships are funded in the UK. From April 2017, organisations with a payroll of more than £3 million will be required to pay 0.5% of their annual pay bill (automatically deducted via PAYE) into the Levy. 

These funds will be verified by the government before being put into the organisation’s Digital Apprenticeship Service account, where the government will top the contribution up by 10%. Levy payers are then able to use their pot to pay for training - either by taking on an apprentice or upskilling their existing staff. If you don’t use this money after 24 months, it’ll be removed from your account. 

It’s worth noting, however, that the funding process is slightly more complex for those whose workforce is split across the UK. You can find more information on this in our handy guide on the issue here

Similarly, the rules around funding can become particularly tricky for companies that are part of a group organisation, so be sure to check out our guide for further advice if you’re in this situation. 

Organisations who aren’t paying the Levy can also take advantage of its funding. In most cases, they’ll be eligible for ‘co-investment’ – which entails paying 10% towards the cost of training, with the government topping up the other 90%. This system also applies for Levy payers who want to invest in training beyond the budget of funds they have available in their Digital Apprenticeship Service account. 

There’s also a range of other incentives for small employers looking to engage with the Levy and you can get more information on these in our guide here

AssessmentApprenticeship Levy Assessment 

In an effort to make apprenticeship training more valuable to employers and trainees alike, the way apprenticeships are assessed will also be overhauled. 

With the Levy’s introduction, it’ll be necessary for all standards to incorporate an ‘end-point assessment’. 

As opposed to the way frameworks are currently assessed, this assessment must be carried out by an independent, third-party organisation to ensure that every apprentice undergoing training is assessed in the same way. 

The Skills Funding Agency will be keeping a register of apprentice assessment organisations, which will be incorporated into the Digital Apprenticeship Service as of May 2017. For further information on how to go about using this, you can take a look at the government’s guidance here


The Apprenticeship Levy will also remove all barriers to eligibility, meaning that candidates can engage with Apprenticeships regardless of their existing qualifications. In combination with the slew of new standards, this means that employers can procure training that better-serves their workforce development needs – whether that’s taking on new entry-level staff or investing in upskilling existing employees. 

Trailblazer standards: Current progress 

As mentioned, the transition to Trailblazer standards is an ongoing process. Providers like The Skills Company are already delivering apprenticeships under Trailblazer areas like electrical and financial services, while other frameworks don’t yet have anything lined up to replace them. 

The government has also encouraged employers to collaborate on new standards that match their specific needs, which means we’ll also see a variety of Trailblazer standards coming into force that won’t necessarily have a corresponding SASE framework equivalent. 

This switchover is a huge undertaking and an ongoing process, however, you can take a look at the types of apprenticeships being developed and how far they’ve progressed using this handy government resource

And you? 

The changes to apprenticeships are significant and we’ve barely scratched the surface of the impact the new standards will have for employers. So if you’ve got any specific questions about the topics we’ve covered, or want to share your thoughts, be sure to get in touch via LinkedIn or Twitter

And if you’re looking for bespoke advice on how to properly engage with the Levy, be sure to get in touch with our expert Levy team today.

 Talk to our Apprenticeship Levy team