As many readers will have seen, the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, recently requested a review of the Senior Leader Masters Degree Apprenticeship (SLMDA) standard. In the letter to the Institute for Apprenticeships requesting the review, he states the rationale for doing so: the levy needs to help learners to develop and progress, to allow employers to build a talent pipeline and increase the productivity of their business, to support the people that can benefit most from an apprenticeship, and to secure value for money.
It is absolutely right that the levy is interrogated to ensure it is working as it was intended. At CMI, we recognise and agree that falling apprenticeship starts - especially for under 25s, at lower levels and within SMEs - are a concern. Part of this fall is attributable to the higher quality of new apprenticeship standards replacing older frameworks, but there are structural issues - for example, funding reforms that squeezed non-levy starts - that still need addressing.
However, we had hoped this would be part of a broader strategic discussion on the future of the apprenticeship programme, with a longer consultation period where stakeholders could feed in evidence from apprentices, providers and employers. Because as well as supporting disadvantaged young people to progress to high quality jobs, there is a critical need to up- and re-skill existing employees with up to 160 million women (24%) and 275 million men (28%) projected to need to switch occupations by 2030 and a large and growing proportion of over 50s in the workforce. It is in this context that discussions about the future of the apprenticeship levy should take place.
Where Can We See Apprenticeships in Action?
CMI has access to granular data on SLMDAs, as we are a major EPA assessor. What do the numbers show?
- The vast majority of SLMDA apprentices come from key public services like the NHS, the Police and local councils as well as social enterprises and SMEs, where excellent leadership skills are in huge demand.
- Management degree apprentices have helped NHS trusts to deliver outstanding provisions.
- Apprenticeships are also creating new opportunities. Management degree apprenticeships provide opportunities for people to access high-quality management training that simply were not possible prior to the introduction of the levy. CMI’s initial analysis shows that widely reported misconceptions about the SLMDA are not supported by the available data:
- Of the CMI SLMDA apprentices where we can identify sectors, over three fifths (61%) work in the public sector or not for profit. Continued investment in leadership and management skills within key public services is important – to drive improved management of public money and outcomes.
- 70% CMI SLMDA apprentices are in regions with lower-than-average productivity levels, whilst 40% are located in the four regions of England ONS identify as having the lowest levels of productivity - Yorks and Humber, North East, East and West Midlands; they are directly addressing the government’s own levelling up agenda.
- The percentage of SLMDA from areas of multiple deprivation is growing and as of 2018/19 stands at 40% of CMI SLMDA starts.
So these are the facts. Then there’s the context. The original intention of the apprenticeship levy was to boost productivity by putting employers in the driving seat and enabling them to choose the training that they need. We have a persistent productivity problem in the UK: evidence from the Bank of England, ONS and OECD tell us that a large part of this problem is due to a lack of leadership and management capability. To tackle this problem the UK needs to professionalise management and ensure that the apprenticeships system suitably incentivises employers to improve management capabilities through training.
It is also essential to remember that ‘left behind’ regions need a critical mass of leadership skills and capability to drive change and improvement. Management degree apprenticeships are enabling that critical mass to grow. For example, in the south-west, these programmes are building organisational capabilities and creating opportunities in a region where progression to higher education or training is the lowest in England.
In summary, the apprenticeship policy was designed to empower individuals to take control of their careers, and to create opportunity, right across the country. In that regard it is working. SLMDAs in particular are supporting the demand for improved leadership and management skills in vital public services. Yes, there is a critical need to do more to ensure employers, particularly SMEs, are incentivised and supported to take on more young people as apprentices. But untimely or drastic measures made in isolation are likely to have unintended consequences – for the financial sustainability of providers, the quality of apprenticeship provision, and the positive social outcomes for apprentices that are beginning to come through.
If you agree please consider joining our campaign and writing to your local MP about the positive impact management degree apprenticeships have had on your prospects, your business or your local area.
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