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What’s going on with apprenticeships?

It’s all change in adult care apprenticeships but what’s happening and what do providers need to know? Rob Newby fills in the detail.

With 87,000 starts in 2014 to 15, adult social care currently provides the largest proportion of apprenticeship starts of any sector of the economy, with 17% of the approximately half a million starts. It is estimated that this contributed to a total of 150,000 adult social care apprentices on programme in the year. These apprentices work in a variety of care roles, but they are covered by two learning frameworks:

  • Health and Social Care, where they follow an adult social care pathway at one of two levels – intermediate and advanced.
  • Care Leadership and Management at higher level, which is at the same level as the second year of university education.

This higher apprenticeship is very popular among aspiring managers. It has been phenomenally popular since its introduction in late 2012 with almost 15,000 people starting this framework. This represented 43% of higher apprentices in all sectors in 2014 to 15.

This all means that adult care has a significant part to play in helping the Government to reach its target of three million apprenticeship starts in the life of the current Parliament.

Apprenticeships reform

For the last two years, the Government, led by the Department of Business Innovation and Skills and the Department for Education, has been rolling out a comprehensive reform programme of the English apprenticeship system, known as Trailblazer. Crucially, this iterative policy process has been led by employers and, although they have received lots of practical support from sector skills council Skills for Care, adult care employers have very much ‘held the pen’ in the words of the original Minister in charge, Matthew Hancock MP.

Case Study: How apprenticeships benefit the adult care sector

aVida Care is a domiciliary care company based in central Gloucester. It provides support to around 150 vulnerable adults/older people with varying dependency levels and conditions such as physical disability, sensory impairment, learning disability and/or other mental health or physical issues.

To date, aVida has supported seven apprentices on frameworks including Health and Social Care and Administration. Three of these apprentices have now completed their qualification and have secured full-time employment with aVida in a variety of roles, including rapid response, planning and homecare. aVida offers its apprentices the opportunity to learn about all aspects of the business on 10-week rotational placements, including administration, assessment and review, homecare and team leading.

Peer support is of benefit to the apprentices and the manager, Jacqui, confirmed, ‘This has bridged the generation gap and been welcomed by our existing staff.’ One apprentice said, ‘I feel very supported by my line manager and mentor.’ Another apprentice noted, ‘aVida is a good company to work for and I have now recommended the apprenticeship to my friend who will be starting her employment with aVida soon.’

The adult care Trailblazer

The employer group for the adult care Trailblazer has been ably led by Helen Wilcox MBE. Helen is a small employer running domiciliary care company, Woodford Homecare in the West Midlands. Helen has gathered around her an enthusiastic group of Apprenticeship Employer Champions from local authorities and private and voluntary sectors. It is a mixture of large employers, small and medium-sized companies and an individual employer.

This Trailblazer group completely re-examined the need for apprenticeships, stripped back the multiplicity of job titles and settled on four generic occupational titles, which are the subject of four concise two-page standards:

  • Adult Care Worker (equivalent to current level 2 intermediate).
  • Lead Adult Care Worker (equivalent to level 3 advanced).
  • Lead Practitioner in Adult Care (new level 4).
  • Leader in Adult Care (equivalent to level 5 higher).

The standards describe the skills and knowledge required by an individual to be fully competent in an occupation. The Adult Care Apprenticeship Standards are available on the Government website but, as yet, are not available to use. The new standards will become available in the next few months once the detail of the end-point tests has been finalised and the SFA has agreed a funding cap.

End-point assessment

Key to the new approach is that the apprenticeship should be judged at the end to see if the learner has fully absorbed all the learning, skills and behaviours required. Thus, on top of the existing competency-based Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF) diplomas, every apprentice must finish with some independently-administered tests. These are designed to test them in the round and allow them to demonstrate high-level competency. All these requirements are the same for the new apprenticeships in all sectors.

Adult care has a significant part to play in helping the Government to reach its target of three million apprenticeship starts in the life of the current Parliament.

Finally, as part of the Government’s drive to improve productivity, if they do not already possess them, all apprentices will have to acquire maths and English qualifications at level 1 for level 2 apprentices, and at level 2 for apprentices at level 3 and above.

Funding reform part 1: the one plus two model

The Government was clear that, as part of the reforms, they also wanted employers to have buying-power over apprenticeships, as they are the customer in the relationship with learning providers and end-point test assessors. This has led to a number of reforms of the funding system. Currently, learning providers claim money from the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) for the apprentices they train. How much they get depends on the size of the qualifications contained in the framework and, crucially, the age of the apprentice. Apprentices aged 19 or over attract 50% or less of the payments for 16 to 18 year olds. Any difference in the cost of delivery is made up from employer contributions but these can be in kind rather than in cash.

In the new system, employers will need to pay cash, but there will no longer be an age-based distinction on the cost. The SFA sets a maximum price for each apprenticeship standard from one of six caps. Employers then negotiate a price with their chosen learning provider for delivery under this cap and pay one-third of the price. The SFA contributes the other two-thirds. So, for example, if the cap was £9,000, employers would contribute a maximum of £3,000 over the course of the apprenticeship and the SFA £6,000. There are additional incentive payments, which the SFA will pay to the employer if they are small employers, employing 16 to 18 year olds and upon completion. It is also worth noting that from this April, employer National Insurance contributions for apprentices under 25 will be abolished.

Funding reform part 2: the levy

However, the system will change again from April 2017. Changes being currently enacted through the Finance Bill in Parliament will introduce an apprenticeship levy on all employers. This will be collected through the PAYE system. It will be 0.5% of an employer’s payroll but a £15,000 allowance means that, in effect, this will only affect employers with payrolls of at least £3m. For example, an employer with a payroll of £4m will pay 0.5% of the amount over £3m, meaning their levy will be £5,000. This is estimated to affect no more than 2% of employers, but covers the private and public sectors, including government departments, local authorities and NHS Trusts.

The levy money raised (minus a contribution to be made available to the Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland governments to use as they wish) will be placed in an online account for that employer and matched with a 10% top-up from the Government. Employers then have control of a pot of money to pay for as many apprenticeships as they wish.

Much of the detail of how this will work is still being finalised, but there are likely to be time limits on how long this money will remain if unused and also scope for the employer to allow other employers (such as those in their supply chain) to use some of its contribution. It is also not yet clear what system will be in place for the 98% of employers who will not be covered by the levy.

The employer account will sit inside a new online Digital Apprenticeship Service, where it will be combined with databases of learning providers, learners looking for an apprenticeship and advertised apprenticeship vacancies. The whole process will be overseen by a new Institute for Apprenticeships, which will have a board made up of employers and others, and will be answerable to ministers. This is being created as part of the Enterprise Bill currently passing through Parliament.

Ambitious targets

The Government has set itself and employers ambitious targets to completely reform the nature of English apprenticeships and how they are funded. It expects to hit its target of 3 million starts between 2015 to 20. Government partly hopes to drive this through a requirement of public bodies to take on 2.3% of their workforce as apprentices, which will, no doubt, affect some parts of the adult care sector.

The adult care sector has massively benefitted from the Apprenticeship Ambition programme driven by Skills for Care and supported by the Department of Health. It contributes 17% of all starts with a high completion rate of 79%. What is certain is that those achieving the new apprenticeship standard will be of a very high quality and will be able to take great pride in what they have achieved and the occupation they have chosen.

Do you use apprentices? Will you be more inclined to once the reforms are in place? Log in to share your thoughts below. Subscription required.

Rob Newby is Programme Head – Standards Learning Qualifications and Apprenticeships at Skills for Care Email: Twitter: @SkillsforCare


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