Employees sometimes do not possess the minimum functional skills qualifications needed to start their apprenticeship. Partnering with a degree apprenticeship provider can help bridge this gap, writes Stacey Hayes Allen.
The apprenticeship levy was introduced to encourage employers to invest in skills development in a market where the skills gap is deepening.
While the intentions behind this were good, and the funding has offered vast opportunities for companies wanting to close the skills gap, there have been some concerns along the way. For example, some employers have found it challenging to navigate the rules and regulations surrounding the funding, finding it too rigid and stating that it doesn’t allow for enough flexibility in how the funds can be spent. This lack of flexibility has made it difficult for businesses to tailor their apprenticeship training programmes to their specific needs.
This inflexibility also extends to the minimum requirements to start an apprenticeship. In order to qualify for levy funding for courses provided by many universities, learners need to obtain a functional skills qualification beforehand if they do not have a grade four or above GCSE equivalent. This requirement is so apprentices learn essential literacy and numeracy skills that they can apply every day, as well as in their professional lives.
However, apprenticeships are typically used as an alternative route into education, where often those applying haven’t completed or had access to other educational routes into the workforce. With apprenticeships being valuable for opening access to education and upskilling, the need for functional skills has made it harder for employees who don’t have a strong educational background.
A barrier for learners
This can be off-putting for some learners because if they are struggling to get the functional skills qualifications they need, they are more likely to feel disheartened and leave the apprenticeship programme or be deterred from even signing up. This is not only frustrating for the learners, but also for businesses that so desperately need workers to upskill.
Some have called for functional skills to be removed from the curriculum, arguing that a lot of the time they aren’t needed for the roles apprentices are working in. For instance, an apprentice chef may not need in-depth maths knowledge to succeed in their role. Others counterargue that basic knowledge is needed to thrive in any industry – especially at a more senior level.
Regardless, there are a few things companies can do to ensure their employees are getting the best chance for upskilling and progressing in their careers.
For employees who need to obtain functional skills to qualify for the apprenticeship, employers will need to source a provider who can deliver this. The costs of this can be drawn down from the levy if part of an apprenticeship, but it will need to be funded separately if not delivered as part of an apprenticeship (i.e. from a separate provider).
To make this easier and maximise the funding available through the levy, while ensuring apprenticeships are open to all and helping underrepresented groups gain the same access to education, employers should instead look at partnering with a degree apprenticeship provider that integrates functional skills teaching as part of the apprenticeship. For example, Arden University provides access to functional skills at no additional cost to the employer or employee. On top of this, partnering with an institution well-versed in supporting working adults will ensure it can offer the support learners may need.
Meeting business need
It’s also vital for businesses to partner with educational institutions that can offer tailored support, to ensure degree apprenticeships meet their business demands. For example, specific courses may need to be tweaked for certain industries, to make sure that apprentices are learning how to overcome the unique challenges to their role and sector – as opposed to general knowledge that may not be applicable in practice. This will not only make sure learners are better equipped to support a business, but it will also make it easier to engage apprentices.
To make sure things run smoothly, employers should also have a dedicated ‘learning and development champion’ to ensure apprentices have access to the support they need. The champion will be able to identify potential staff who will stick to the degree apprenticeship and, ideally, stay with the organisation post-completion. They will also ensure that, if apprentices are struggling, they can get in touch with the training provider for extra support.
Jumping into functional skills learning can be tough – especially for those who did not enjoy school or thrive in numeracy or literacy. Having dedicated support can make things a little easier, giving apprentices the confidence they need to complete their course and helping employers get the most out of the apprenticeship levy.