The Education and Skills Funding Agency has announced that it is pushing back the introduction of an employer-funding focused element of its apprenticeships drive for 12 months because of concerns about the “scale and pace” of its reforms.
Changes introduced last year saw the introduction of the Apprenticeships Levy, which firms with an annual paybill of more than £3m are responsible for paying and which helps to fund the cost of apprenticeships. Businesses with more than 250 employees have greater responsibilities for apprenticeships provision.
Funds for apprenticeships are currently distributed to levy-paying firms by the ESFA’s apprenticeships service, and smaller businesses had been expected to be able to take advantage of the service from next year. But now the Department for Education executive agency has said it is delaying that element of the programme until 2020 “to give time for employers and training providers to prepare to take full advantage of the new approach and to keep stability in the marketplace”.
It said in a statement that the decision to delay the rollout of the apprenticeships service to non-levy-paying firms followed “feedback about the scale and pace of the apprenticeship reforms”.
“We want to make sure that future changes are introduced in a gradual, well-managed way,” it said.
“To ensure a more gradual transition, we will extend current contracts for training providers delivering training for employers that do not pay the apprenticeship levy for 12 months, from April 2019 to March 2020.
“Over the summer, we will work closely with employers and training providers to plan what a gradual transition should look like.
“We will provide further details in the autumn, including what this will mean for providers with existing contracts and plans to develop the apprenticeship service for all employers.”
The civil service’s own apprenticeship plans are not affected by the announcement.
Whitehall has a longstanding commitment to create 30,000 new apprenticeship places by 2020, based on a target of delivering apprenticeship starts at 2.3% of its workforce.
However figures in the Office for National Statistics’ annual report on the civil service showed earlier this month that the number of 16-19 year-olds employed by the civil service actually decreased by 14.3% between 2016-17 and 2017-18.
The Cabinet Office told Civil Service World that it was “committed to providing opportunities for younger workers to join the civil service” and suggested that the reduction in 16-19 year-olds, which equated to 270 fewer staff in that age bracket, could have been due to a reduction in the number of posts at lower grades across Whitehall.
Because apprenticeships are not limited to those in the 16-19 age bracket, a reduction in staff numbers in the demographic would not in itself indicate a failure to make progress with the 30,000 target.