Employers taking on apprentices for the first time can be understandably daunted when getting to grips with their obligations.

Apprenticeships and functional skills has proved a major source of confusion for many, so in this guide, we’ll break down exactly what employers need to know about this type of training and how it fits into an apprenticeship qualification.

What are functional skills for apprentices?functional skills level 2

Functional skills is a type of training that’s used to get apprentices up to speed on English, Maths and ICT (information and communication technology) in cases where they’re found to require additional support  in one or more of these areas.

The training focuses on developing ‘applied skills’, namely problem solving and the ability to apply what they’ve learned in real-word scenarios.

To use the construction industry as an example, functional skills maths lessons might focus on the cost of materials and weights, while the English element may utilise literature on the industry and ICT training could be based on real day-to-day tasks apprentices will need to carry out in the workplace.

Functional skills in English and maths are mandatory for all apprentices who don’t hold GCSEs in these subjects and in the case of ICT, where the apprenticeship standard specifies that it’s required.

The training falls into three tiers - Entry Level, Level 1 and Level 2. The first two levels are stand-alone qualifications, while Level 2 is equivalent to a GCSE. Apprentices don’t have to retake their GCSEs as part of this, but this can be an option.

Apprentices with the relevant A-C GCSE grades are exempt from undertaking the functional skills requirement set out in a framework.

How does functional skills training work functional skills maths

Functional skills were introduced as a replacement for Key Skills in September 2012 (following a two-year pilot) as a way to boost the UK’s skills in literacy, numeracy and ICT.

This decision came off the back of research that showed similar levels of competency in English and maths between the ages of 55-65 and 16 to 24-year-olds in the UK, while the performance of young people in other countries had successively improved.

As well as the use of functional skills in apprenticeship frameworks, the training has also been embedded in GCSE qualifications and diplomas.

While those undertaking functional skills are subject to assessment, this isn’t carried out in the same format as traditional exams. For instance, in maths, the apprentice will have access to a calculator, while in ICT - they’ll carry out tasks on a computer with internet access.

Functional skills can be adapted to the needs of the learner and they’ll only undertake as much training as is required to get them up to speed. Once they and their assessor feel they’re ready to take the required tests, they can proceed and if needed, retake the tests without being subject to exam deadlines.

Is functional skills part of the requirement for 20 per cent off-the-job training for apprentices?

While time away from the workspace will be required to complete functional skills training - it doesn’t count towards the employer’s obligation to provide 20 per cent off-the-job training for apprentices.

Functional skills EnglishEmployers are already nervous regarding the necessity for off-the-job training and since the need for functional skills training would exacerbate this - there’s a real danger that employers will greatly favour candidates who hold the GCSEs necessary to exempt them.

Some have even claimed the complexity and cost of issues like these will greatly detract from the aim of bolstering the UK’s skill set through the Apprenticeship Levy and accompanying reforms - leading overwhelmed employers to treat the Levy as simply another tax to pay.

And you?

The ins and outs of functional skills can be dense for newcomers, so if you’ve got any questions we’ve not answered above - be sure to let us know on LinkedIn or Twitter.

And if you’re looking for advice and support in taking on apprentices - be sure to get in touch with The Skills Company today: 

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