Welcome to part four of our coverage of the Academies Show 2018. Carolyn Savage, communications and events leader for the National Apprenticeship Service, was the next presenter on our conference tour. During her presentation, ‘Apprenticeships Uncovered’, Ms Savage discussed at length how the apprenticeship landscape in the UK has undergone something of a transformation: “there’s been a lot of reforms in the last year.”

Apprenticeships in the UK have been reshaped to allow students entry to a broad range of professional positions. Historically, apprenticeships were seen as routes to technical jobs for the school leavers that felt less engaged with academic education; now students are just as likely to find apprenticeships for blue-chip companies as they are for technical roles.

The New Apprenticeship Funding Levy

As Ms Savage explained, one of the significant changes to the apprenticeship funding system is the Apprenticeship Levy. If a company (this includes schools) has a pay bill over £3 million each year, they should already be paying into the fund. These companies can then register for an account and use the fund to pay for government-approved apprenticeships. Ms Savage urged the audience members that were hearing the information for the first time to explore how they can use the levy.

New Apprenticeship Standards

Ms Savage went on to discuss further reforms to apprenticeships: “new apprentices must be working towards approved standards; trailblazer groups decide these standards.” Ms Savage explained that a trailblazer group is a collection of employers that work together to establish a level of expertise for an occupation within their industry. These standards are then outlined in a specification that highlights the knowledge, skills and behaviours needed to perform an industry role to the required level. In addition to these reforms, guidelines for apprenticeship duration have been established: “apprenticeships must last at least 12 months and be 20% formal training,” said Ms Savage.

Apprenticeship Levels

Ms Savage moved on to talk about how apprenticeships have diversified since the reforms, with the highest levels available being equivalent to undergraduate qualifications: “122 degree apprenticeships have been developed over the past year, and new apprenticeship vacancies are opening all the time.” The scheme is offering students new avenues for finding professional success, and, according to Ms Savage, they’re increasingly considering these alternative paths: “students are becoming savvier; they’re questioning – ‘will a degree get me a good job or is an apprenticeship a better option?’”

Encouraging Students into Apprenticeships

With new regulations come new requirements for secondary education providers. Educating students on the various post-secondary options is one of the largest challenges facing teachers and career advisors, and apprenticeships often suffer from being broadly categorised as relevant for certain professional roles. Ms Savage urged the audience to help secondary students challenge these stereotypes, and pointed to resources like “the great Apprenticeship Support and Knowledge for Schools project website.” Likewise, career advisors should be encouraged to show students that there are different paths to professional success: “if students are looking to get into big companies, apprenticeships are a good place to start.” Indeed, the benefits of working onsite while gaining an academic qualification can put students at a great advantage over those who have a degree but little-to-no work experience.

Ms Savage finished by noting that apprenticeships are a welcome alternative professional path for both students and employers: “the entry requirements for professional roles have risen and applying for work has become a very competitive process. An apprenticeship gives students direct experience and is also a new avenue to gaining a degree.”

Looking for more highlights of the Academies Show 2018? Check out our Academies Show overview.

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