The Rt Hon Anne Milton on Apprenticeship Challenges

Each year, Apprenticeships 4 England host an annual conference with keynote speakers to address skills and sector challenges. Today, the event was hosted at The Welcome Centre, Coventry, and attended by some of the UK’s most influential Learning and Development executives from organisations such as the BBC, CMI, 3aaa and many more.

The keynote speaker for this event was Rt Hon Anne Milton MP – Minister of Skills & Apprenticeships, who discussed the importance of changing the way Apprenticeships are positioned, to be viewed as a mark of quality, and programmes which help people of all ages to achieve big dreams, but mentions that there’s still a long way to go.

She continued to explain the importance of employers taking a long-term view of their skills needs, and encouraged all levy-paying organisations to take the time to work out how best to spend their apprenticeship ‘tax’, which is aimed at making a difference to both the individual and economy.

There was acknowledgement that the Institute for Apprenticeships hasn’t been “as responsive as it should” but promises that this will improve as back-office systems are put in place, moving from being a ‘gatekeeper’ to being an emotionally intelligent relationship team, there to support organisations on their Apprenticeship journey.

According to the minister, she will be open minded and flexible about how the system needs to change to deliver the skills required, concluding that the key is developing new skills, but there has to be an identified training need to justify how the money will be spent.

“Apprenticeships are about people taking a step down a path that will change their lives.”

The question and answer session followed;

Q: In 2020 what will success look like in terms of apprenticeships?

A: We need to ensure the economy has all the skills needed post Brexit, therefore our focus is on skills over knowledge.

Q: Why have starts been so low?

A: Starts are a bit lower than expected because there was initial resistance from employers. Historically employers in general have put low amounts of money into skills development therefore the government was right to push ahead with the levy, simply a ring fenced ‘tax’, to fund the skills that employers need. It takes time to change mindsets and understand / embed a new system. It has taken employers time to decide / plan what they want to spend their pot of money on. We’re now seeing much better understanding and uptake with the new Standards.

Q: The 20% off-the-job is an arbitrary requirement that emphasizes quantity over quality, which goes against what you have just said. Many learners have numerous opportunities outside of the workplace and outside of normal hours to attend events but at the moment, they cannot be counted or have to be given time-off-in-lieu.

A: We need to find a balance between people not abusing the system and being creative about the ways we can develop these skills. The minister is keen to have us send her suggestions as to how activities outside of the workplace and normal working hours (e.g. attending networking events) can be incorporated into the 20% requirement.

Q: is it right that organisations use this levy to upskill or super-skill their existing staff, particularly in areas like management development, rather than on bringing in new young staff?

A: Upskilling and super-skilling is a good thing for the economy, particularly where it is related to management where it has been demonstrated that better managers drive more effective businesses. The key however, is to get a balance between upskilling existing workers and ensuring there are still the opportunities for the young and those with other needs.


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