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Colleges get ready, steady - go for the Levy!

From NOCN’s Head of Account Management Darren Howells:

I was at the recent AoC Conference 2016 in Birmingham and had the pleasure to speak to many colleagues from the FE sector. From our discussions I realised that there is much still unclear about the reformed apprenticeships, Levy, end point assessments and the nature of the relationship between colleges and apprentice assessment organisations.

NOCN - apprenticeship experts

From the outset it should be said that the team at NOCN are apprenticeship experts, from frameworks to standards, qualifications to assessments, we've been involved from the start. NOCN is now an Apprentice Assessment Organisation (AAO) for finance, construction, engineering, public services and other leading apprenticeship sectors. Because we know our stuff, we can share our expertise with you (so we are offering free advice sessions - scroll to the end to know more).

Employers in the driving seat

The Levy rolls out in the New Year and Levy-paying employers will then be in the driving seat for apprenticeships. They will contract directly with apprentice training providers (ATP) – of which hopefully your college is one – and with the apprentice assessment organisation (AAO) – which NOCN is – to deliver end point assessments (EPA).

Two apprenticeship systems

Apart from all new acronyms, what does this mean for colleges? Well, in the short term we will keep the current SASE apprenticeship system and run it in tandem with the new reformed system. The Government will ‘switch off’ SASE frameworks as they gradually become replaced by new standards – but due to the slower-than expected pace of progress in launching new standards, this may take some time.

Apprenticeships give best return on investment

So short-term, nothing much changes, but do not be lulled into a false sense of security because the change is certainly coming and colleges better be prepared to be part of the new apprenticeship landscape. The Government has made it clear that it favours apprenticeships to improve the skills of young people because they provide the best return on investment.

Colleges selling to employers

Employers in the driving seat, choosing who they want to train and assess apprentices - a big shift for colleges which will now directly engage with employers, competing directly with private training providers. For many colleges this may be uncomfortable and unfamiliar ground, but the pain is worth it in terms of both college income and better opportunities for apprentices.

Embrace the change, get agile to compete

Some colleges have already embraced the change, joined the Register of Apprentice Training Organisation (RoATP – another acronym!) and set up a trading arm to sell services to employers – which seems a good way to get round the problem of large inflexible organisations competing with smaller, agile enterprises responding quickly to take advantage of opportunities.

Assessment Organisations engaged from the start

Another big shift is timing. Previously the AO was engaged near the end of the apprenticeship to certify qualifications but now the AAO should be contracted at the beginning – the AAO is now an integral part of the apprenticeship not an afterthought. Starting apprentices on programme without appointing the AAO is not the way to do things.

Flexible, responsive partnerships are essential

Although colleges working as ATPs do not officially have a role in employing AAOs, they can certainly influence employers’ decisions as to which AAO would be best. For each standard there will be a number of AAOs appointed for the employer to choose from – but how do they know which is best? It’s a brave new world out there as the market for assessment is launched and no one has yet proved themselves in practice. There is all to play for and AAOs which embrace a partnership approach will do well – it will be important to be flexible and responsive to the needs of employers and to work closely with ATPs in the interests of apprentices.

Colleges advising employers as trusted institutions

Colleges may enter into discussions with the different AAOs for their standards, to identify capabilities, competencies and capacity in order to best serve the college’s customers. I advise colleges to fully scrutinise each AAO’s offer to identify which will do the best job and I am sure employers will value your balanced advice as trusted institutions.

Further opportunities from the reforms

There are also opportunities for colleges to work in partnership with other training providers, offer on-site assessment facilities to AAOs, provide on-going advice and guidance, and of course keep offering SASE apprenticeships during the transition process.

English and Maths provision

Finally, English and Maths. Colleges certainly have a role to play in providing GCSE and Functional Skills as part of reformed apprenticeships. There is much debate currently about what employers want and what civil servants think employers want – GCSE C grade or Functional Skills? There are indications that the Government is starting to reconsider its focus on the academic and instead look to applied and relevant word and number skills.

Share your views – get in touch

These are just a few thoughts based on actual conversations with College Principals, VPs and Managers. I am sure there are many more questions you might have, so I encourage you to get in touch and share your views – we are on all the usual social channels and email.

Free advice sessions

Our regional team is available to come and see you for an informal chat about apprenticeships, end point assessments, the Levy or whatever else is foremost on your mind - to arrange a meeting click here.