March 2017 saw the implementation of a game changing piece of legislation for anyone interested in training and skills across the UK as the Apprenticeship Levy came into full effect. Over the last 18 months, across the press and multiple social media channels we have seen commentary fluctuating from the massively positive to the extremely negative as businesses have shifted to adopt various strategies to come to terms with and optimise this game changer in organisational development.
Against this backdrop on a national stage, Swindon and Wiltshire provides a unique regional case study, benefitting from such a widely diverse business demographic and multiple training providers offering a range of solutions but critically without the supporting pillar of its own institution focused solely on Higher Education(HE).
Both nationally and locally, apprenticeship starts have disappointingly dropped year on year, 315,900 starts were reported nationally between August 2017 and May 2018, this compares to 457,200 reported in the equivalent period in 2016/17. We have seen a similar trend across Swindon & Wiltshire as businesses take stock on what funding and policy changes mean for them, drawing breath to really consider what the next steps might look like.
Within the overall statistics and contrary to the overall trend we have seen some real highlights as Higher and Degree level apprenticeships have really started to take off.
Key to their success are the growing levels of information and understanding amongst providers, businesses and learners.
Over the last 18 months, we have seen all three of the local colleges, (Swindon College, New College & Wiltshire College) really step up to the opportunities and challenges created by the implementation of the levy, pushing to engage with more businesses and delivering a greater spectrum of courses including the provision of higher level education. In addition to this we have seen some great support across the area from some of the private providers ranging from small to large but all wanting to understand business requirements in the area and how they can then add value. Particularly pleasing has been the interaction with various University providers all wanting to reach out and get a better handle on the current demand picture and how they might support growth across the area. Within this the higher education landscape a notable mention should go to Wiltshire College for their recent status upgrade to a “University Centre” based on their efforts to bring a greater selection of HE courses to market.
Through the constant conversations that ourselves and our partners are engaging in with employers, there are several key themes which consistently emerge around concerns over what time away from the workplace looks like or entails, flexibility surrounding start dates, what financial support is or isn’t available and what recruitment for an apprentice might look like. A great place to start if you want some initial facts and answers for yourself is the Supply Train Apprenticeship Quiz. Our experience in the market place is that whilst businesses can sift through volumes of online apprenticeship info, it’s the face-to-face interaction they really value and the individuality of each business can only be really understood through a human interaction.
From a Higher Futures perspective, we are in a privileged position to support businesses from across the county and our impartiality gives a unique insight into how the training landscape is evolving both from a delivery and a consumption perspective. The increased onus on businesses to upskill their staff will not reduce nor is there any evidence that the apprenticeship levy will suddenly disappear. With this in mind, we will continue pushing forward an agenda of continuous learning and where possible making the levy an opportunity to be optimised rather than a burden. Given the size of the task ahead this will only be possible with the help of all our partners and stakeholders, who to date have been fantastic, but the journey is only just beginning.