By removing funding, has the Government just pulled the rug from under the feet of an apprenticeships revival, asks Kerry Linley?

As we mark National Apprenticeships Week this month, this type of vocational training is certainly part of plans for many employers and HR teams over the next 12 months. 


Apprenticeships boost productivity and quality

It’s not difficult to see why. Apprenticeships bring fresh ideas, fill skills gaps and benefit your bottom line. According to one survey, 86 percent of employers said apprenticeships helped them to develop skills relevant to their organisation, 78 percent of employers said they helped improve productivity and 74 percent said apprenticeships helped to improve the quality of the product. 

The next few months, however, could be a testing time for school leavers seeking this route into employment – as well as for organisations and their HR teams trying to accommodate them. 

On January 31, the Government stopped its cash incentive scheme to encourage businesses to recruit apprentices. Not all employers took advantage, but there’s evidence to suggest the £3,000 bonuses may have supported a revival in apprenticeships in 2021, as lockdown measures eased. More than 160,000 employers reportedly took up the offer. 

Provisional figures just published by the Department for Education show apprenticeship starts are recovering to pre-pandemic levels. 130,200 starts have been recorded from August to October 2021, compared to 91,100 in the same period in 2020, a rise of more than 40 per cent. 

So, it begs the question: has the Government just pulled the rug from under the feet of an apprenticeships revival? The additional funding tap has been chopped, so will the upwards trend in employers taking on apprentices now tail off? 

How to narrow the skills gap

I really hope not. If we are to narrow the skills gap, apprenticeships must be promoted more widely in this country and be given the respect they deserve. We do lag behind other countries in our use of apprenticeships, ranking mid-table at best, according to the international standards body the OECD.  

 And the answer to keeping the revival on track, or at least a fundamental part of it, has to be education. And by that, I mean giving employers and HR teams clear, readily available information about the benefits and how to prepare for, start, manage and complete an apprenticeship.   

What do HR teams, or employers outsourcing their training, need to look out for? This is not a comprehensive list but here are some of the key considerations: 


1 Prepare 

It really is worth the time investment to save pain further down the line. So make sure you 

  •  can access apprenticeship funding, find and save apprenticeships 
  • choose the right apprenticeship standard. Apprentice standards are developed by employer groups called ‘trailblazers’ and show what the apprentice will be doing and the skills required of them. This is when you must as an employer or HR team think about which skills and training would benefit your organisation 
  • find a specialist training provider if not managing in-house 
  • choose a management system that will help learners, trainers and managers work together 


2 Start  

Before an apprenticeship begins, you must carry out an initial assessment of your learner.  

It’s really important to assess their prior learning to establish the ‘starting point’, or baseline, for the apprentice. This informs how much of the apprenticeship training content the individual requires. You assess prior learning and experience and compare the learner’s existing knowledge, skills and behaviours (KSBs) with those needed to achieve the occupational standard. 

 Understanding KSBs is absolutely critical to starting, managing and completing an apprenticeship. 


3 Manage  

Each apprenticeship will, of course, be different and there is much I could talk about here on the whole issue of managing an apprentice and their learning from start to finish. If I could give you one piece of advice, however, it would be this: spend time thinking through who needs to be involved in supporting the apprenticeship to ensure the learner gets what they need from it and can complete in a timely way. 


Here’s a list of people who might just help make the apprenticeship a successful one: 

  • Any tutor who teaches the apprentice during their journey 
  • Any assessor who needs to mark work done by the apprentice 
  • The apprentice’s line managers (there may be more than one of these) 
  • Their line manager’s line managers 
  • The head of any department the apprentice is working in 
  • The head of HR 
  • The apprentice’s mentor(s) from another company (in the instance of flexi-job apprenticeships
  • Absolutely anyone who may be of benefit to the apprentice themselves 

Remove any one of these people from the equation and your apprentice may miss out on an opportunity to learn, to develop confidence, or to feel supported. 

4 Complete 

Finally, don’t fall at the final hurdle by going too early. 

An apprentice can only be put forward for the End Point Assessment (EPA)when they have completed their formative training, and it’s important you only do so when they’re ready. 

The employer, training provider or HR manager and the apprentice together should assess the progress the apprentice has made before deciding whether the apprentice is ready. Putting the learner forward too early can be costly, and can knock their confidence.  

An apprentice should only be considered for EPA once they have mastered all of their KSBs and can evidence this through a portfolio of work, which is often referred to as the e-portfolio. Evidencing attainment of each of the KSBs can be difficult to measure and report on, which is why some apprentices end up sitting their EPA at an inappropriate time in their apprenticeship journey. 

I really hope National Apprenticeships Week can give fresh impetus to vocational training in this country. Employers can see the benefits but too few are taking advantage of the Government levy and recruiting apprentices. Let’s see greater engagement with employers and a campaign to continue a national revival in apprenticeships. It is long overdue. 


Kerry Linley is  the Founder & CEO of Rubitek, an apprentice management software