Delivering apprenticeships in practice: the education provider's view

02 June 2017 -


After some initial confusion, employers and education providers are coming to terms with the new Apprenticeship Levy, and benefits are starting to flow through. This discussion was top of the agenda at CMI’s 2017 Partner Conference

Ian Wylie

The Apprenticeship Levy was one of the hot topics at CMI’s 2017 Partner Conference, held in Birmingham in May and which looked at Britain’s changing learning landscape.

This should come as no surprise. There has been some confusion about the levy, about the non-levy, about what the standards look like, about what will be in the frameworks, and about how the end-point assessment will work. Both education providers and employers have many questions.

Some larger levy-paying employers have been unsure about what their provisions would look like under the levy. One employer was even reported as saying to an FE college, “Here's our levy pot, what can we get for it?”

What came through at the CMI conference was that education providers are being active in addressing those concerns. Nicola Bowman, curriculum manager at New College Durham, for example, said their apprenticeship team has been very active, visiting employers, offering them workshops on the levy and providing them with information.

“We’ve been doing some personalised training needs analysis with employers, and using Levels 3 and 5 standards to build them bespoke programmes,” said Bowman. “Some of this new provision is customised and in employer premises, some is in colleges and we offer blended learning too.”

Education providers have had to gain expertise quickly in answering all kinds of levy-related enquiries. Bowman described how one employer moved from levy to non-levy and back again in the space of a month! Behind the scenes, the levy has led to many strategic and operational decisions for colleges and educational establishments.

A new era for apprenticeships

A few teething issues aside, enthusiasm and employer interest are high, particularly in higher apprenticeships. New College Durham, for example, introduced higher apprenticeships just over a year ago and its first cohort of 20 graduated last year.

“We’ve significantly grown our higher apprenticeship provision in that time,” Bowman explained. This year, the college has 120 students at Level 5, and has mapped its foundation degree in business management into the Level 6 Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship (CMDA). There are three cohorts of students from the public sector already studying for Level 7, and New College Durham has new cohorts of students ready to start the CMI MA Apprenticeship, once its proposal is approved by the validating body.

“One of our learners with a public-sector organisation has saved their organisation just under £100,000 by implementing changes to their way of working – a great example of an employer seeing real and significant benefit from apprenticeships,” said Bowman.

Education providers are having to be more more agile and flexible to meet these new opportunities. The traditional September-to-June model, for example, doesn’t work any more; employers want all-year-round provision. So at New College Durham they’ve introduced three starting points – September, January and Easter intakes – to give employers and learners what’s described as “roll-on, roll-off flexibility”.

This, in turn, has stimulated lots of interest from local employers and, since the beginning of this year, New College Durham, for one, has been working with the CMI to strengthen its relationships with employers and promote management training provision.

Overall, said Bowman at the CMI conference, “I'm really looking forward to the changes as I think they can only drive us forward in developing a new generation of managers and leaders.”

Nicola Bowman was sharing her view of the Apprenticeship Levy changes at the CMI’s recent Partner Conference in Birmingham.

CMI has developed bespoke information on management apprenticeship programmes for employers and managers.

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