The Apprenticeship Levy marks a sea change in the way apprentices are trained in the country, but the transition to the new system will necessitate something of an overlap between the old and new way of carrying out apprenticeship programmes.
Employers who already have apprentices, or want to take them on before April, may still be unclear on how this will work in practice. So in this guide, we’ll take try to answer some of the most frequently asked questions from organisations who already have apprentices or want to sign them up before the launch of the Levy.
Do I need to wait for the Apprenticeship Levy to come into force before taking on apprentices?
You don’t need to wait until the launch of the Levy to take on apprentices. They’ll simply be funded under the current system of employer contributions (or if they meet the necessary criteria, being fully funded by the government) for their duration. For Levy-paying employers taking on apprentices before and after the changes come into force April 2017, it could entail dealing with multiple funding setups, but for non-payers, the transition won’t be as dramatic.
How are standards changing?
The government is in the process of replacing existing SASE (Specification of Apprenticeship Standards for England) Frameworks with its new Trailblazer standards and several have already been approved for delivery. Another potential concern for those considering taking on apprentices in the near future might therefore be holding off until a more appropriate standard becomes available for you to use.
You can find a full list of standards that are in the works and whether they’re ready for deployment here. These new standards are being designed in conjunction with groups of employers to more effectively match their needs and it’s still possible to join a Trailblazer group and have a say in shaping apprentices in your sector.
Will apprentices enrolled before April 2017 be subject to end point assessment (EPA)?
This depends on whether they’re undertaking a new-style Trailblazer standard or an SASE Framework. If they’re enrolled on a Trailblazer standard, there’ll always be an end point assessment, whereas SASE frameworks won’t require end point assessments - even after the Levy changes come into force.
While new standards are in the process of being rolled out, you won’t be able to sign up an apprentice for them until at least one organisation has been approved to deliver EPAs. These must also be carried out by a third-party organisation that’s completely independent from both the training provider and employer.
How this is carried out will differ greatly according to the standard and can range from an online multiple choice test to a practical examination. Details of what end point assessments for each standard entail will be available in their specific course outlines.
Will the qualifications they get differ?
This is totally dependent on the type of apprenticeship they’re taking. Some of the new Trailblazer standards are already approved for delivery, while many of the existing SASE Frameworks will remain in force until they’re replaced.
In either case, apprentices will work towards the same qualification that was set out when they started the apprenticeship, however, one thing that differs is the use of grading criteria.
Apprentices on new-style Trailblazer standards can now earn a pass, merit or distinction - depending on how well they’re judged to have done in their end point assessment. You can find a comprehensive list of qualification levels and how they stack up here.
Are there any advantages to taking on an apprentice before the Apprenticeship Levy?
Until the launch of the Levy, employers can still take advantage of ‘cash-free’ Apprenticeship Frameworks for 16-18 year olds, which means you won’t have to pay the 10% co-investment charge for the entire duration of the apprenticeship in question.
However, if your organisation will be paying into the Levy, this may be something of a false economy, since your contributions won’t count towards any existing apprenticeship programmes that you’re running.
You’ll also have 24 months to use your Levy funds, which could provide the flexibility to take on apprentices before and after the Levy.
Do I have to wait until the Levy launches to offer apprenticeships to existing staff?
While eligibility criteria will still be in place before the Levy launches, it’s entirely possible to use apprenticeship programmes to train up existing staff, provided they’re in the right age bracket and don’t have any conflicting qualifications.
However, after April 2017, you’ll be able to use apprenticeships to provide training to any of your existing employees, regardless of their age or prior qualifications (as long as the apprenticeship they’ll be taking differs sufficiently from these).
The bottom line
While there’s definite plus points to taking on an apprentice before the forthcoming changes come into effect, whether or not you decide to push on or wait until after April 2017 is largely dependent on your circumstances and business goals.
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to apprenticeships, so if you’re looking for bespoke advice on whether to start your programmes before April or after the Levy launch, be sure to get in touch with our team today.