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ViewPoint: Utilities Demand More From Apprenticeship Levy
January 6, 2020

CONTRIBUTOR: Nick Ellins, Chief Executive – Energy & Utility Skills

Image result for utilities sector

The utility sector led the way in implementing the government Apprenticeship reforms, was the first to secure a Trailblazer Standard and graduate an apprentice through the new system. They offer to act as a proven and credible ‘critical friend’ to an incoming government.

Now, Energy & Utility Skills, a skills and assurance organisation for the UK utilities sector, published a comprehensive review into the delivery and effectiveness of Apprenticeship reforms. The work forms one part of its workforce renewal and skills strategy to ensure that the gas, power, water and waste management industries has the human capital required to deliver environmental infrastructure and essential services to nearly 67 million UK consumers.

The employer-led review was independently written by Professor David Way CBE, a leading figure in UK skills and Apprenticeships. The report found the energy and utilities sector – which is of high strategic importance to government plans to boost UK productivity and will invest more than £100bn in the economy – has made the policy reforms deliver high quality workers but further adjustments are needed to make the apprentice system fit for purpose.

The ‘Test and Adjust’ report calls for six key actions:  

  1. Filling the funding gap

The predicted funding shortfall for Apprenticeships must be transparent. Any funding gap should be filled by a combination of increased public funding and lowering the payroll threshold to below £3m for employers who contribute to the Apprenticeship Levy. Public funding offers a proven healthy return for the UK economy

Linking Apprenticeships to the Industrial Strategy 

Success should be about more than the number of Apprenticeship starts, it should be linked to outputs and productivity. The sector calls for a change in approach to ensure critical skills delivery is incentivised, quality is increased and not undermined by funding cuts.

Sector training pot 

Unspent Apprenticeship Levy funds are returned to treasury. The sector askes that Levy funds are retained within the sector to create a flexible ‘sector training pot’ to be used for tackling skill challenges and enhancing productivity. Employers in the energy and utilities sector are currently losing up to £2.5million a month of unspent Levy

Employer leadership 

The employer-led approach must be extended to all parts of the Apprenticeship system. Employers know best when it comes to the skills and knowledge required in their businesses. This is tested at the end of the Apprenticeship programme by an Independent End Point Assessment organisation. Why then go back and check if 20% of their time was spent on ‘off the job’ training? Employers need to have more control over how their apprentices are trained.

UK wide approach 

Over half of the sector’s employers operate across the UK’s four nations, delivering services to around 67 million UK-wide customers. Every company in England must pay the Apprenticeship Levy based on their UK PAYE bill. However, it is only directly available to fund apprentices in England. In the other 3 nations it is passed back to their governments. This often leads to employers having to pay twice for Apprenticeship training. It is not uncommon for companies operating across the 4 nations to have cohorts of apprentices on two different Apprenticeship programmes.  The sector calls for a coherent UK-wide framework that works for employers and apprentices

From T-Levels to Apprenticeships 

The industry is positive about the introduction of T-Levels but calls for more transparency and detail on the pathways from T-Levels to Apprenticeships and employment. The sector is keen to see T-Levels and Apprenticeships working as one continuous process.

Nick Ellins, Chief Executive of Energy & Utility Skills, said: “The energy and utilities sector employs over half a million people, generates 5% of GDP and contributes £51m annually to the Apprenticeship Levy pot. They set the standard in delivering successfully against the policy reforms and from the start sought to positively help the government to ‘test and adjust’ its approach.

This report from Professor Way, sets out clearly for the incoming government, where to adjust the reforms to bring immediate benefits and policy success. Too much time is being spent focusing on the Apprenticeship Levy as an end in itself, what matters is the quality of the talent that emerges into the economy and society, and how effectively the system works for the employers who foot the bill.”

Report author, Professor David Way, CBE, said: “Employer-led reforms to the Apprenticeship programme are beginning to bear fruit, especially by improving quality. This will be vital for future productivity growth and for the expansion of the Apprenticeship programme.

The Apprenticeship Levy has not yet had the transformational impact on employer investment in skills training that Ministers were looking to achieve. However, employers are now familiar with the systems and are steadily increasing the proportion of their Levy payments that they are able to use.

By extending the employer-led approach to all parts of Apprenticeships and ensuring employers see the Levy arrangements as fair and transparent, there is every prospect that we will see the growth in high quality Apprenticeships that will drive the productivity increases needed for the UK to compete in the global economy.”

Nick Ellins concluded: “The Apprenticeship reforms have brought undeniable benefits to the employers in our sector, and they wish to accelerate the gains being made by identifying and embedding reforms that will work for the incoming government and for business. Their track record of turning theory into practice makes them a tried and tested partner for government. It is time to step back, draw breath, talk candidly, target the resources and efforts to maximum effect and use this insightful research to help Apprenticeship policy progress to support the needs of the whole UK economy”

Outcome Stars: A Tool for Measuring Wellbeing
January 6, 2020

By Anna Good, Research Analyst at Triangle, the social enterprise behind the Outcomes Stars.

The Outcomes Stars are a family of evidence-based, sector-wide and person-centred tools for frontline services, available under licence and with training.  

Outcomes Stars are evidence-based tools designed to support positive change and greater wellbeing, with scales presented in a star shape and measured on a clearly defined ‘Journey of Change’.

The Outcomes Star is completed as part of conversations between individuals and support practitioners such as key workers. All workers complete a one-day training course as a minimum, focused on how to complete the Star collaboratively and how to use the Journey of Change to target action planning.

There are over 30 versions of the Star tailored to different sectors, settings and service user groups, such as The Family Star Plus for working towards more effective parenting, or the Well-being Star for people with long-term health conditions (figure below).

The Wellbeing Star focuses on eight areas that patients, doctors and other health professionals have identified as being central to maximising well-being and independence when living with a long-term health condition.

The outcome areas are supported by research evidence showing for example, the importance of addressing social isolation, poor mental health and material hardship among those with long-term health conditions (Emerson, Honey, Madden  & Llewellyn, 2009; Mossabir, Morris, Kennedy & Blikham, 2014).

Both the development process and the use of the Stars in practice are based on the empowerment, collaboration and integration principles of Participatory Action Research (Lewin, 1946).  They aim to empower service users to be active participants, working collaboratively to devise solutions alongside professionals.  The Outcomes Star has been said to encourage a “reversal of role, underlined by power and knowledge, usually represented in evaluations by the powerful funder, the mediating evaluator and a less powerful service user” (Ardvison & Kara, 2013, p.13).

In the Star development process, service users, managers and key workers take part in workshops and provide feedback on the tool as part of an iterative process. 

All versions of the Stars are then tested for at least 6 months in frontline settings, with feedback from all parties captured and the psychometric properties of the Star examined.  This makes sure that the constructs and language in the tool are relevant, robust and as helpful as possible for the people who use the tool.  A review of existing literature in the sector is also undertaken to support development (for more information, see MacKeith, 2011.)


In contrast to many outcome measures, completing the Outcomes Star is an integral part of keywork and is intended to support as well as measure distance travelled.

Emphasising the keywork benefits, a team leader using the Wellbeing Star in a community Pulmonary Rehabilitation team, notes that “used as part of initial conversation with someone referred to the service, the Star provides a consistent structure for that first interaction, and the information captured with the Journey of Change helps the team prioritise the right mix of interventions and personalise the programme so it can be as effective as possible”.

This team is led by an Occupational Therapist and uses the Wellbeing Star alongside clinical measurement tools in a 6-week programme helping people with lung or respiratory complaints manage and live well with their condition.

The integration of outcomes, measurement and keywork can minimise the resistance often encountered when measurement is seen simply as a ‘tick box exercise’ and means of surveillance. Organisations using the Outcomes Star report that the process of engaging with the Journey of Change and reflecting on the data can itself result in positive movement and naturally facilitates person-centred and outcomes-focused action planning (York Consulting, 2013). Formal research is planned to evaluate the impact of the Star as an intervention in itself.

Service users respond positively to the Outcomes Star, and value being involved in identifying their strengths and needs and of seeing their progress visualised on the Star.   The Journey of Change underpinning the scales is strengths based and identifies progress in terms of attitude, motivation, and engagement with services as well as changes in practical circumstances and behaviour. There is a growing consensus that these outcomes are important to achieving longer term change and maintenance of positive change and well-being (McNeil, Reeder & Rich, 2012).