Log In or Sign Up
End to ESFA Funding Subcontracting Brokers

Article by Billy Camden published in FE WEEK

Using brokers in subcontracting deals will be a “serious breach” of funding rules next year, the government said today as it announced the first steps to clamping down on subcontracting in FE.

Training providers have also been told to publish a “rationale” for subcontracting, their management fee structure and a list of subcontracting partners on their websites by October 31.

The measures were outlined in new subcontracting guidance for 2020/21, published today by the Education and Skills Funding Agency.

Last month, the ESFA released its response to a consultation that was run earlier this year and proposed major changes to subcontracting.

The agency wants to see a “significant reduction” of the practice in FE and will roll out strict measures, such as volume caps, over the next three years.

For academic year 2020/21, the ESFA said today that the use of brokers to source a subcontracting partner is “not permitted and will be treated as a breach of contract/funding agreement”.

“By brokers we mean where a third-party matches, for a fee, a provider with an unused allocation with a provider that can secure enrolments of learners to utilise it,” the agency explained, adding that they have “strengthened our levers to act and will do so where we find cases of provision being subject to brokerage”.

FE Week has reported on multiple cases of brokers cashing in on last minute subcontracting deals in recent years.

In March we revealed on how a learner find firm was attempting to broker a subcontracting deal for 16 to 18-year-old trainees who had already completed their placement at football clubs.

The only other change coming into force next year is a requirement for “all providers to publish a clear educational rationale for their subcontracting position on their website alongside their management fee structure and a list of subcontracting partners”.

The guidance states that directly funded institutions should “set out in their organisation’s strategic aims their reason for subcontracting, which must enhance the quality of their student offer”. The rationale “should be signed off by governors and boards and published on their website”.

The ESFA said they expect this information to be published by 31 October 2020 and it should be “easy to navigate to from the front page of the organisation’s education and training web pages”.

Other reforms will be introduced in 2022 and 2023.

10 Famous People Who Were Apprentices
June 30, 2020

Apprenticeships have been around for centuries, originally in manual trades such as stone masonry, painting and plumbing.

They’ve come a long way and below are some familiar faces who started out their careers as an apprentice.

Jamie Oliver – Like many chefs, Jamie started his career as a catering apprentice. After leaving school with only two GCSE qualifications, his apprenticeship has definitely helped him to succeed in his chosen career.

Sir Ian Mckellan – Sir Ian didn’t go to a drama school like most other big-name actors, but instead he completed a three-year apprenticeship at the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry.

Karen Millen – The famous designer started her career as an apprentice, studying at the Medway College of Design in Rochester. She also sold t-shirts to her friends on the side, before opening her first shop.

Stella McCartney – Like Alexander McQueen, McCartney started her fashion career as an apprentice tailor with Edward Sexton on Savile Row. Read more

All Employers to Drop PhD Apprenticeship Plans

The following is the text from a letter sent by Gillian Keegan MP Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Apprenticeships and Skills to the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education 


The Secretary of State for Education wrote to you on 26th February 2020 to ask you to undertake a formal review of the Senior Leader Level 7 apprenticeship standard. I want to thank you for the work that you and your staff have carried out on this review.

Higher and degree level apprenticeships continue to form an important part of our skills and education system, providing people of all backgrounds with a choice of high-value vocational training alongside traditional academic routes.

As the Secretary of State set out in his recent letter to you regarding the Senior Leader standard, it is important that levy funds are supporting those that can benefit most from an apprenticeship, such as those starting out in their careers or helping people from disadvantaged backgrounds to get ahead. While we do not yet know the full impact of the Coronavirus, our priority is ensuring that apprentices and employers can continue to access high quality training, both now and in the future.

I do not believe that using levy funds for Level 8 apprenticeships, which could result in a PhD, provides value for money, nor are they in the spirit of our reformed apprenticeships system.

Therefore, I am writing to inform you that after careful consideration the Department will not fund apprenticeships at Level 8. As the powers to take decisions on standards development and approval reside with the Institute you will wish to consider whether you continue to invest resources in the development of apprenticeships at this level.

I know that the employers currently developing Level 8 apprenticeships were informed in the summer of 2019 that funding for these standards could not be guaranteed, due to the need to ensure that we are meeting the needs of employers and apprentices at all levels in a way that is financially sustainable and delivers good value for money.

I am aware that the employers involved have worked hard developing not only these Level 8 apprenticeships, but also a range of apprenticeships at lower levels that have contributed to the success of our reforms. I want to thank them for their continued commitment to this vital programme.

I am copying this letter to Antony Jenkins, Chair of the Institute. Yours sincerely,

Gillian Keegan MP
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Apprenticeships and Skills

A spokesperson for the IfATE said:

“We accept the decision and will not support the development of level 8 standards at this time.

“We would like to thank the trailblazers for their hard work on the proposals. The institute has been as upfront and informative as possible with them on the funding issue. We requested policy guidance from the DfE and it is appropriate that this has now been issued.”

ViewPoint: Assessing the Apprenticeship Levy Three Years On
June 2, 2020

By Sarah Rowan / HRMagaize

This year marks the third anniversary of the government’s apprenticeship reforms, and with each passing year, we’ve seen the commentary on it evolve. 

From the initial drop-off in starts, to the looming expiration date of levy funds, the quality of the standards on offer and now to the lack of available funding for SME apprenticeships.

Given that the 2017 shake-up of the system was the most significant in a generation, such teething problems are to be expected. The current levy is a tax on organisations with a payroll of more than £3 million, requiring them to pay 0.5% of their wages bill into an apprenticeship fund, with the money needing to be used within 24 months. 

Last March, as that two-year expiration date approached for the first time, concerns were raised about the amount of levy funds still left unclaimed.

At the time £3 billion of levy funding had yet to be used and was due to expire at a rate of £120 million per month. This clearly was the impetus employers needed and it led to a 15% increase in apprenticeship starts in 2018/19. 

However, the most recent figures are less than encouraging. In the first quarter of the 2019/20 academic year, new starts were down 4.7 per cent to 125,800 from 132,000 in the same quarter the year before.

Despite this downturn in new starts, apprenticeship funding is running out – at least for non-levy payers. Under the current system, a levy-paying business can transfer up to 25% of its funds to other non-levy paying SMEs in its supply chain.

The government had envisaged that this would create enough funding to supplement the cost of apprenticeships for SMEs, but recent research by the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) found this not to be the case.

On average, apprenticeship providers are turning down approaches from 40 SMEs per month due to lack of funds. In designing the system this way, the government seems to have underestimated how much of their entitlement levy-payers would actually use and what they would spend it on.

The most recent HMRC statistics for August to October 2019 reveal that ‘starts’ on level six (degree-equivalent) and level seven (masters-equivalent) apprenticeships have risen 49.4 per cent since the same quarter in 2018/19 and are now nearly five times higher than the same period in 2017.

Consider that a level seven, MBA-style apprenticeship can cost up to £27,000 and you start to uncover some of what’s at the root of the funding shortfall.

“The fact that it’s running out of money actually means that it’s working well,” says Anthony Impey, founder of business ISP Optimity and chair of the Federation of Small Business’ (FSB) skills and apprenticeship policy group.

David Hare, director in the talent solutions team at Grant Thornton, agrees: “What we’ve seen is that the uptake of apprenticeships has perhaps been a bit higher than the government initially anticipated. There is more spending going on in the system that the budget had allowed for.”

That may be the case, but the dramatic increase in the degree-level apprenticeships certainly prompts speculation as to whether employers are using their funds in the right places; is such spending going to help organisations meet their future skills needs, and, crucially, what role does HR have to play in influencing how that money is spent?

Hare says that skills shortages have prompted employers to take action and many are coming alive to the fact that apprenticeships can be a good solution for this. But he also acknowledges that there will have been some pressure from finance directors to ensure the money is spent before it expires.

“The dilemma is that the system incentivises employers to look at how they can reclaim their levy funding,” says Ben Willmott, head of policy at the CIPD. Tom Richmond, founder and director of educational think tank EDSK, believes that this model has led to an explosion of ‘fake apprenticeships’.


A 2020 report by EDSK claims that over £1.2 billion of levy funding has been allocated for apprenticeships which, prior to 2017, wouldn’t have been classed as such.

“In many respects, employers have responded rationally to the incentives created by the government. For levy-paying employers, they are keen to re-label their existing training courses as ‘apprenticeships’ to draw down their own levy contributions as quickly as possible,” comments Richmond.

“For non-levy employers, the small pot of money reserved for them operates on a first-come-first-serve basis, so they are understandably keen to use up the available funding before someone else does.”

According to Willmott, the rebadging of existing, and often expensive, training programmes undermines the ambition of the apprenticeship system, and makes them a “proxy for all workplace training”.

But Mark Dawe, chief executive of AELP, argues that overall, the commitment by levy payers to spend their funds is predominantly a good thing. “My view is that the more levy payers engage, the more they’re showing everyone the power of apprenticeships, the better,” he comments.

David Phillips, interim managing director of skills credentialing at City & Guilds says that fundamentally we just need to trust that employers are making the right choices for their organisations.

Impey, who also chairs the Department of Education’s Apprenticeship Stakeholder Board, agrees: “We can’t create a system, which is based on giving employers control…and then turn around to employers and say, ‘we know we gave you a choice, but I’m afraid you’ve been making the wrong choice’.”

But how does HR know what the ‘right choice’ is for their organisation? “HR should have a very good strategic understanding of the skills that they have and that the organisation needs, in order to succeed,” says Willmott. “That way decisions around investment in skills are not purely tactical and are not made simply to utilise levy funding.”

Upskilling the Workforce

The key to getting this workforce planning right is to resist the temptation to solely focus on immediate skills gaps, says Sebastian Tindall, head of L&D at Vitality. “For us, the pressure has never been to spend the money at all costs but rather invest it wisely to get the best out of our people,” he comments.

Andy Moat, people director of B&Q, agrees that sometimes the incentive to spend the levy funds can be a distraction for employers. “We’ve fallen into the trap in the past of treating government funded learning like a KPI and chased a target, at the expense of the learning experience,” he says.

The retailer has recently seen 123 employees complete its level three retail team leader apprenticeship and has bigger plans. By May 2020 B&Q aims to have 1,100 of its employees on apprenticeships, across 28 standards that encompass all of its business functions. “We were determined not to repeat the same mistake, so we are very much focused on quality not quantity,” adds Moat.

At both Vitality and B&Q, the majority of apprenticeships have been delivered at level three but they’ve also each invested in higher-level apprenticeships too. 

“A lot of people will assume that when you invest in an MBA-style apprenticeship, you’ll be doing it for an executive with 15 years of experience and they don’t need it,” comments Tindall. “But it’s a viable alternative to university for a young person. They’ll build experience, get none of the student debt and draw a salary.”

Vitality currently spends about 80% of its levy on level three standards, with approximately 20% portioned off for specialist and higher-level training. It’s a balance that works for them, says Tindall, and allows them access to niche skills such as actuarial science, which is key in their industry.

While these employers might have made the strategy work for them, there are many other non-levy payers who have yet to feel the benefit of the 2017 reforms, despite now having access to the digital apprenticeship service (DAS).

Impey says that while opening up the DAS to SMEs is a really positive move, it creates another crisis to navigate because there’s not enough funding.

Furthermore, because of concerns about affordability, the government has limited each SME to three apprenticeship starts. “I would describe that as having an unsatisfactory situation for the last three years to an unacceptable situation in the future,” remarks Impey.

SME Impact

It’s a stark contrast to the apprenticeship landscape prior to 2017, when SMEs accounted for the majority of apprenticeships. The current situation could have wide-ranging consequences both for the organisations themselves and the communities they’re based in. 

“The impact on small businesses is that they’re not able to grow. They’re not able to respond to changes in the marketplace brought on by automation and digitisation, and it risks stifling their productivity,” says Impey.

And while large organisations tend to cluster near big cities, SMEs are based everywhere, meaning their impact is, arguably, greater. “Small businesses are great agents of social change because they have this footprint that is truly nationwide.

“They are embedded in their local community, suppliers are local, customers are local and so are employees,” adds Impey. “If the government is genuinely committed to a strategy of ‘levelling up’, then enabling small businesses to train and develop their staff is really, really important.”

Pre-coronavirus, there were expectations across the industry that the March budget would bring a much-needed cash injection, allowing SMEs to take full advantage of their access to DAS. The AELP, for one, has called for the further allocation of £1.5 billion pounds.

“We don’t really care where the money comes from,” says Dawe, “But that money is needed, just to bring things back to where they were for SMEs prior to 2017.” Any such boost will surely only be a temporary fix for what is fundamentally a design flaw, but many stakeholders caution against further reform.

Phillips says that what is needed is patience and persistence to make the current system work. Impey agrees: “It’s quite important that we don’t look at what’s happening in the apprenticeship system as a system failure. It’s actually to do with market demand exceeding the funding available.”

From the HR perspective, Tindall believes that the levy system has made L&D more effective. “The money is sitting there, and the only consideration is how to allocate that money fairly,” he comments. “If we said that three or four years ago, you would think: ‘we’d love to be in that situation’. We are in that situation now and yet people are calling for reform.” 

It’s unlikely that calls to overhaul the system will subside anytime soon. The CIPD has long argued for reform with its own research showing that 53% of levy-payers would prefer a wider training levy compared to 17% whose preference is for an apprenticeship levy.

Sandra McNally, director of the education and skills programme at London School of Economics’ Centre for Economic Performance, says that some degree of further reform is inevitable. “It is a good idea to have a policy that incentivises firms to take on apprenticeships,” she says. “But this is not enough to address the skills deficit in Britain.”

With many employers now using the levy for that very purpose, it has resulted in a marked shift in demographics. Apprenticeship starts by over-25s have increased by 44.8% since the 2017 reforms, while starts by those under 19, have fallen by 12.8%.

Moat argues that everyone should be able to take advantage of the levy. “There’s a tendency to assume apprenticeships are just for younger candidates, but I strongly believe that apprenticeships should be available to everyone, from those who have just left school to people who have been in the workforce for many years, including older workers,” he told HRmagazine. 

“We have one of the most age diverse apprenticeship schemes in the industry, with apprentices aged from 20 to 61-years-old.”

But McNally notes that while we do need to focus on reskilling and upskilling, not every employee will require the extensive training that an apprenticeship provides. “It would be useful to consider ways of incentivising [reskilling] that go beyond apprenticeships,” she comments. “One possibility would be to extend research and development tax credits to [include] training, which is done in Austria.”

There are further lessons to be drawn from abroad, McNally says, noting a proliferation of apprenticeship standards in the English system. The Institute of Apprenticeships website currently shows 710 standards, where Germany has 320 and Switzerland has just 240.

Richmond also points to this and believes the Swiss and German systems focus on quality where the English one offers quantity, often at a lower skill level. “No other country would allow these courses into their apprenticeship system,” he claims.

Despite the impact on SMEs, Impey – a long-time apprentice employer himself – advises against reforming the system at the moment. “I think the question around funding is much, much bigger than ‘how do we make apprenticeships affordable?’ It’s ‘how do we respond to this new economy?’,” he comments.

“In the modern global economy, talent is your most important infrastructure. It’s the engine of the economy. Having the right skills investment and the right lifelong learning system in place is almost the most important infrastructure consideration that we need to make now.”

Minister Tells MPs Over 1,000 Apprenticeship Providers Will Not Be Given Any Supplier Relief
April 22, 2020

Article from FEWeek.

More than 1,000 apprenticeship providers that only train levy-paying employers will not be eligible for supplier relief support from the Department for Education, minister Gillian Keegan has said.

In a letter to MPs dated 17 April, she confirmed the DfE will be introducing targeted financial relief measures “for those providers that need it”, but only where they “hold direct contracts with the Education and Skills Funding Agency”.

This includes adult education and non-levy apprenticeships, but not levy contracts held between providers and employers.

Minister tells MPs over 1,000 apprenticeship providers will not be given any supplier relief

“This does not apply in relation to apprenticeships funded from employer digital accounts where the contractual relationship is between the employer and the provider,” Keegan wrote.

FE Week analysis shows there are 1,624 main and employer providers on the register of apprenticeship training providers currently, of which 593 have non-levy allocations this year amounting to £690 million.

That means there are 1,031 providers that only have access to levy funding, and are therefore not eligible for the supplier relief.

Keegan told MPs that the extra targeted support, being offered due to the coronavirus crisis, is to “enable high-quality providers to remain active where that is still possible and safe”.

She will set out further detail on these measures and the criteria for accessing the financial relief this week.

“In doing so we will ensure that this support is targeted at those providers who need it, with proven track records for delivering quality training, and that it takes account of any wider support providers have accessed from HM Treasury or elsewhere,” Keegan said.

Association of Employment and Learning Providers chief executive Mark Dawe said that in the absence of published criteria so far, “we are concerned that the proposed ‘targeted support’ will involve some form of arbitrary selection of providers that may not be fair or justifiable”.

“The letter refers to enabling ‘high quality providers’ remaining active as a result of the promised support but how will the DfE define ‘high quality’?” he added.

“Full transparency is required.”

Q&A: Minister Gillian Keegan on Coronavirus Response
April 16, 2020

Apprenticeships and skills minister Gillian Keegan has answered questions submitted to Tes by further education teachers and leaders amid the coronavirus crisis. 

She said the government was putting in place a range of measures to support apprenticeship providers and colleges, and was keeping a close eye on issues around access to technology for students.

Coronavirus: Apprenticeships and skills minister Gillian Keegan has answered a range of questions from the FE sector

Many providers and colleges are effectively using digital technology, she said – including WhiteHat, which is offering networking socials and access to mental health support to apprentices, and HIT Training, which is providing interactive online classes with students using their own kitchens at home. 

She also said a redundancy support package for apprentices was in development, with more information to be published as soon as possible. 

Watch the TES video below:

HMRC Publish Furlough and Training Guidance for Apprentices

The government has finally confirmed that apprentices can continue with funded training when employers use the job retention scheme, subject to being paid the apprenticeship minimum wage “for all the time they spend training”.

HMRC guidance published on 4th April (click here),  says: “Apprentices can be furloughed in the same way as other employees and they can continue to train whilst furloughed.

“However, you must pay your Apprentices at least the Apprenticeship Minimum Wage, National Living Wage or National Minimum Wage (AMW/NLW/NMW) as appropriate for all the time they spend training. This means you must cover any shortfall between the amount you can claim for their wages through this scheme and their appropriate minimum wage.

“Guidance is available for changes in apprenticeship learning arrangements because of COVID-19.” Click here

Coronavirus: 9 Key Points from the Government’s Apprenticeships Guidance
March 24, 2020

The government has released a package of measures that it hopes will help apprenticeship training providers amid the coronavirus pandemic.

It also applies to apprentices, employers, end-point assessment organisations and external quality assurance providers.

Here are the key points from the guidance:

1. No funding support

The government appears to offer no funding support for apprenticeship training providers during the crisis.

Its guidance says providers will only continue to be paid “retrospectively for the training they have delivered and can evidence”.

Government policy “does not allow payment for services in advance of delivery,” it claimed.

The ESFA added that it “reserves the right to recover funding which was claimed for and paid to the training provider, but for which the training provider was found not to be eligible”.

2. Face-to-face end-point assessments can be rescheduled or ‘modified’

End-point assessment organisations and external quality assurance providers are encouraged to engage and agree where remote assessment can replace face-to-face assessment, or where a simulated environment is to be used.

Apprentices who are deemed ready for assessment, and cannot be assessed due to COVID-19 related issues, will be able to have their EPA rescheduled. Where there is a “specified time limit for EPA post gateway”, a further pause of 12 weeks is allowable.

Apprentices whose gateway is being delayed are allowed a break in learning, with an extension to the assessment timeframe.

3. Breaks in learning rule softened – but providers still won’t be paid

Funding rules currently state that a break in learning must be initiated by the apprentice.

The government will now allow employers and training providers, temporarily, to also report and initiate a break in learning where the interruption is greater than four weeks.

Training providers will not receive payments for learners who are on breaks in learning.

4. Go to Treasury if you’re struggling financially

The guidance states that where the COVID-19 outbreak results in loss of income due to ceased or reduced delivery of training, training providers “should consider their eligibility and apply for the wide range of financial support that HM Treasury has already announced for businesses”.

5. Apprentices made redundant to find a new employer within 12 weeks

Where apprentices are furloughed (granted a leave of absence) or placed on unpaid leave, employers and training providers have been urged to consider whether a break in learning would be appropriate.

Where apprentices are made redundant, it is the DfE’s ambition that they will be supported to find alternative employment, and continue their apprenticeship within 12 weeks.

The training provider “must support the apprentice to find another employer” where redundancies take place.

In instances where a significant number of apprentices are made redundant, the ESFA said it will attempt to provide “exceptional practical support to the apprentices and training providers to secure alternative employers for the individuals”.

6. ‘Distance learning’ encouraged

The government is “encouraging and supporting employers, and training and assessment providers, to make use of distance-learning tools wherever possible and practicable to do so”.

7. Arrangements for disrupted training delivery in March

Where training has been delivered this month, but a break in learning has begun, or is expected to start before the end of March, to ensure payment for these apprentices, training providers have been told to:

    include these learners in their March ILR submission as on programme

    record, retain and submit evidence in the usual way

    record a break in learning in their April ILR submission

    ensure that these learners are not recorded as permanently withdrawn from their apprenticeship, by entering the ‘Completion status’ field of the ILR as ‘6’, denoting that the learner has temporarily withdrawn from learning due to an agreed break in learning

The DfE makes clear that training, which cannot be delivered in March, but for which the training provider receives payment, should be delivered within the “remainder of the apprenticeship, and the previously agreed total cost of the apprenticeship, before the planned end-date”.

Where the training is not completed, the ESFA “reserves the right to recover payment”.

8. Employers urged not to pause or stop payments to providers for March

During March, levy-paying employers “should not use the apprenticeship service to ‘pause’ or ‘stop’ payments to the training provider, where some training has been delivered in March”, the DfE says.

Doing so will result in the training provider not receiving any payment for these apprentices.

9. Arrangements for April and beyond

For a break in learning greater than four weeks that begins on or after 1 April, the apprenticeship should be ‘paused’ by the employer through the apprenticeship service at the point the break in learning begins.

The employer should “not ‘stop’ the apprenticeship through the apprenticeship service as this will prevent it resuming subsequently”.Previous

Which? University – Applying For an Apprenticeship: What Students Need to Know
January 22, 2020

Find out how you can support students to apply for a work-based option after A-levels. Do you have students applying for a work-based option post sixth form? Learn how you can support them fully along the way…

Skip to:

Understanding what’s on offer

It’s easy to be confused by the details for the various work-based options for sixth form leavers. Here’s a quick round-up:


Apprentices are employed by companies and spend around 80% of their time at work and 20% studying.

There are different levels of apprenticeship, with schemes lasting a minimum of a year and up to five or six years for some degree apprenticeships. To find out more about the benefits, download and share our free guide to higher and degree apprenticeships.

Watch now: What are degree apprenticeships?

Sponsored degrees

Sponsored degrees share some characteristics with degree apprenticeships but there can be significant differences; notably, those on sponsored degrees don’t have to be employed by the sponsoring company. 

In addition, the specific package on offer can vary from employer to employer: full-time study or part-time study; bursary, salary or course fees paid. Our free guide to sponsored degrees explains more about this route and the different options.

School-leaver schemes

There are school-leaver schemes too, which are typically run by employers. These offer professional qualifications rather than academic ones. Such schemes are quite common in finance, professional services and retail management.

To confuse matters, you’ll find the different terms used interchangeably. Students should focus on the detail of their chosen scheme to ensure they know exactly what they’re getting.

Top tip

  • Students can apply for both university and work-related schemes if they want to keep options open.
Finding the right option

Applicants to all programmes will need to balance work and study, show that they’re ready for the workplace and consider how they’ll adjust to longer hours and shorter holidays than those at university.

When deciding which is right for them, students should consider:

  • How time will be split between work and study
  • What qualifications are on offer? 
  • How long is the scheme?
  • Will they be paid? 
  • Will they be employed?
  • Who will pay for any course fees?
  • What happens after the scheme?

We’ve devised some quick classroom activities to help students find out more about how apprenticeships work and how one compares to going to university.

What’s the Apprenticeship Levy? The term ‘apprenticeship’ is protected in law with standards developed by groups of employers. From April 2017, larger employers have to pay into a fund which can then be spent on apprenticeship training.

The Levy is part of the Government’s plan to increase the quality and quantity of apprenticeships and it is hoped that this and other changes will contribute to greater availability and awareness of this route.

Applying for an apprenticeship: a two-year timeline

Each company offering an apprenticeship has its own application process and timescale, so Key Stage 5 students will need to be on the ball to avoid missing out.

Year 12

Students should start to look at what might be on offer the following year.  

They should make a note of any schemes that interest them, recording application deadlines and looking at ways to contact the organisations and find out more about them.

Vacancies can be found on the following websites: Find an ApprenticeshipUcas CareerfinderAll About School LeaversNot Going To UniAll About Apprenticeships and Milkround School Leavers.

Top tips

  • For most schemes, students will apply directly to the employer. 
  • Encourage your students to check start dates closely, as some opportunities begin before the end of the school year. Ucas Careerfinder features a handy start-date filter to avoid this pitfall.
  • Suggest they follow companies on social media for the latest news on recruitment; they could even make contact with employers this way.
  • Students should also search websites of local employers and local universities for relevant opportunities.

Some of the most competitive schemes receive hundreds of applications per place, with employers looking for the full package of qualifications, skills and experience.

Students should look out for summer schools, site visits and insight days to build experience and knowledge, and test out ideas about jobs.

Deadlines for some summer schools fall as early as January, but insight days don’t tend to be booked quite so far in advance. Information on these events can be found on some of the websites listed above. 

Making early contact with a specific company before applying can pay off. Experience in all forms can be beneficial. Volunteering, part-time work, specific hobbies and interests or helping out family and friends might be relevant too.

Year 13

Students could start by writing a job-focused personal statement which highlights their selling points and relevant skills, but is also backed up with evidence. Remember this will be different to a Ucas personal statement (likely to be more subject-led) and can be adapted and targeted later to suit the needs of a specific vacancy.

Students would benefit from preparing a CV, using it as an exercise to identify what might give them the edge. Now might be a good time to have a mock interview or to ask a professional to check over CVs or sample statements.

Top tip

  • Most post-A-level programmes ask for at least two A-levels at grade C, with some demanding three of the highest grades. 
Application time

One of the challenges of work-based schemes is that there is no fixed application time or method of applying. Students will need to keep looking and applying from autumn onwards to make sure they don’t miss out. 

Registering with and regularly checking the websites listed above should help. This is where the research carried out in Year 12 should pay off too, as students will have an idea of the types of vacancies that might be coming up, and when. 

The recruitment processes of large firms can be very similar to graduate recruitment, involving online assessments, online interviews, presentations, recruitment centres and so on. Smaller firms might follow a less structured process, including recruiting later on in the year.

Top tip

  • A bit of creative research into a company really helps when targeting an application.
Higher and degree apprenticeships guide
Higher and degree apprenticeships guide

Download our materials for free to your device – perfect for printing and sharing with students and parents.

Download (PDF 1.6 MB)

ViewPoint: Apprenticeship Levy Needs ‘Shake Up’ to Serve Businesses and Communities
January 20, 2020

Two of the UK’s leading figures in Technical Education and Skills are calling for a radical shake-up of the Apprenticeship Levy System so it better serves both businesses and their communities. Contributor Neil Bates, Chair of The Edge Foundation and John Baumback, Managing Director – Seetec.

John Baumback, started his career as an apprentice with Seetec and is now Group MD: “We know that most large businesses understand their corporate responsibilities, and many have ambitious CSR programmes to support communities, schools and good causes. 

“My idea is simple, rather than unspent levy being given back to HM Treasury, businesses should be able to use these funds to support educational programmes in their local communities. There are many examples of businesses like Investec, JLR, Greggs, Ford, UBS and BP who invest in education and in young people. It makes good business sense to do so because these young people are the workforce of the future.” 

The call for more flexibility is supported by CBI Deputy Director, Josh Hardie, who last year highlighted the case of a large insurer which runs an apprenticeship programme, internships, traineeships and work placements, but none are Levy-compliant due to the inflexibility of the scheme.

Unintended Consequences
In the first six months of the levy in 2017, apprenticeship starts fell off a cliff, plummeting by 40 percent on the previous year. In the Levy’s first full year, employers used just 15 percent of the £3.9 billion pot. While this rose to 22 percent by January 2019, this still amounted to some £300m a month of unspent levy being taken back by HM Treasury. 

A survey of employers for People Management highlighted that, of those that planned to use the levy, 35 percent planned to use it on MBA or management training.  Bates says while there is nothing wrong with genuine apprenticeships for older workers, there is little evidence of funding being used to encourage more school leavers to secure a high-quality apprenticeship.

He believes the absence of an early talent pipeline will impact on UK businesses in a post-Brexit world where technical skills will be at a premium. An Edge Foundation report highlights that two-thirds of UK apprentice starts are conversions of existing workers over the age of 25. In Germany and Austria, 35 percent of all post-secondary school students are on an apprenticeship, in the UK it is just 4 percent. Bates says the low numbers of 16-18 year olds starting on high-quality advanced apprenticeships, particularly in STEM subjects, is a fundamental weakness in the UK skills system. 

The Levy is Not Enough
Baumback stresses that the best UK employers understand the need for a skills strategy to ensure a pipeline of talent to compete in a global market. Most also have a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategy linking the business to the local community and the education system to ensure that growth is inclusive.

Baumback and Bates argue that the best way to achieve long-term employer buy-in is to link these strategies. Allowing levy funds to be used for educational CSR initiatives would make a compelling business and social case.  

Building Lasting Partnerships
A strong example is Ford’s Next Generation Learning (NGL) programme, recently introduced into the UK in partnership with the Edge Foundation, North East LEP and local schools.

The aims are to strengthen the talent pipeline, prepare young people for college, careers, lifelong learning and leadership, achieve educational equity and increase community prosperity. According to Bates and Baumback, this is one of many examples of large employers engaging with their local communities and building links between schools and employers. 

Bates cites Basildon, which grew up around the automotive industry in the 1960s, as an example of a community which could benefit from this approach. While technological change has transformed the town into an advanced engineering powerhouse, with highly-skilled, well-paid jobs, he argues the local education system has not kept pace.

“The consequence is that many residents do not have the education and skills needed to access these well-paid jobs. Young people, especially, are not sharing in this success. We need to make growth inclusive and allowing big business to use their levy to invest in the community benefits everyone”. 

Bates and Baumback say this would make the levy a force for good, fostering partnerships between large employers, local authorities, schools and communities. It would build on regional skills devolution, shifting control of policy and resources away from central government and into the hands of those that will benefit from it. 

This would be a logical next step in the reform of apprenticeships and technical education, they conclude. They are urging business groups to campaign for more flexibility, while developing a strategy to use the levy more productively.