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Hospitality leads in taking ownership of apprenticeships, but is the market ready?

Annette Allmark, director of strategic policy, People 1st

If like me, you have anything to do with apprenticeships, you would have spent the last few years watching the reform unfold as the government implemented a radical and new employer-led agenda.

Having worked with six apprenticeship trailblazers in the visitor economy sector, including hospitality, we saw how quickly employers took up the opportunity to be at the heart of the reform. The announcement last year that there would be a 0.5% apprenticeship levy on employers with a pay bill of more than £3 million from April 2017 was the big game changer, as businesses urgently sought to discover how best to recover their investment.

So with only five months to go, is the market ready? There may be many opinions to that question, however, if we remove some of the negative noise surrounding the reform and levy, I believe that many businesses are not actually too far off.  So, while it’s naïve to think that the transition to a new apprenticeship system is not without its challenges, at People 1st we are seeing many employers proactively planning their workforce development strategies to adapt and benefit from the changes.

One of the re-occurring doubts of the apprenticeship reform is the whole ethos of an employer-driven system. Robert Halfon, minister of state for apprenticeships and skills, hit the nail on the head when he said “…employers are central to everything we are doing. We need to stop pretending that the government knows better than industry – employers know what they want employees to learn, they know the things that drive product. In the end it is employers who sign the cheques for someone’s salary…let them be central in the delivery and content and creation of it."

Last week, members of the new Hospitality Apprenticeship Board were announced. The board, with 15 employer representatives from across the industry, will operate in full from April 2017 and will oversee the external quality assurance of apprenticeship assessment. Members have a highly responsible role and are pivotal to achieving the government’s ambition for quality apprenticeship outcomes, in collaboration with delivery partners.

The Hospitality Apprenticeship Board, and wider industry network, have fully embraced the ethos of employer-driven apprenticeships, but certainly not simply to fulfil new skills policy. There’s a fundamental, and in fact critical, reason and that’s to attract and retain staff, because by not doing so it’s costing the industry £274 million a year. Additionally, employers in the industry will make an investment of well over £50 million a year into the levy, therefore this is the time to ensure that apprenticeships deliver sound business results, increase productivity and make a real impact on raising professionalism.

While some organisations, such as the CBI, have called for a slowdown on the levy implementation, it’s fair to say now that we need to focus on the ‘how’ rather than worrying about the ‘when’.  Through our work at People 1st, we have three goals in mind. We want to help businesses to:

  • become more competitive
  • attract and retain talent
  • challenge perceptions that the industry is low-skilled and lacks career prospects

So going back to the question ‘is the market ready’, I would say no, not quite yet, but we’ve got five months to make sure it is. In markets such as hospitality, where employers’ passion to achieve quality apprenticeships is evident, so it’s important to get the rest of the building blocks in place. Three things are essential to achieve this:

  • Not overlooking what’s great about the apprenticeship reform – the new standards are not simply job descriptions, they set out the end goal and are the professional standards that employers and apprentices can be proud of – the levy is an opportunity to fully adopt them.
  • Embracing the change - no qualifications and the inclusion of end-point assessment require a huge shift in mind-set, but managed correctly the new model can afford employers much greater training flexibility, and the independently conducted end assessment will consistently check that apprentices have achieved the standard.
  • Working in partnership – collaborate, communicate, co-ordinate. If employers are going to successfully implement the reformed apprenticeships and benefit from their levy, the complex must be made simple – with much greater effort to work together, across all stakeholders, I truly believe we can achieve this.

Moving forward, now that the government has tabled the technical and further education bill, to be overseen by the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education, this is a tremendous opportunity to work in partnership to develop a cohesive post-16 structure to help individuals, from all walks of life, progress in the world of work.

My hope is that in creating the new and prestigious post-16 structure, the government will build on what has already been achieved by the hospitality apprenticeship trailblazer, and utilise the Hospitality Apprenticeship Board to drive the development at a sector level.

Annette has played an instrumental role in the development of the 18 new apprenticeship standards for the visitor economy industries, working with over 200 employers in their design. Her in-depth knowledge and experience has enabled her to support a number of leading businesses and stakeholders in preparing for the new standards and the levy.