Apprenticeship programmes - May 2018

It’s been just over a year since the introduction of the new requirements for apprenticeships. Our new Workforce News video looks at how councils are doing under the new scheme. 

We have fantastic case studies from Southwark Council and Thurrock Council telling us about the progress of their apprenticeship programmes, and a recent apprentice from Central Bedfordshire Council tells us about his experience of being an apprentice with a disability.

Luann Donald – Senior Workforce Advisor, LGA

Hi and welcome to the new edition of Workforce News. So, it's been around about a year since the government introduced new requirements for apprenticeships, and we’re going to have a look at how we’re getting on with all of that. So, with us today we’ve got Jamie Saddler from the LGA, our Apprenticeship Adviser, and he's going to talk us through some of the work councils are going on that. Also, we’ve got the leader of Southwark Council, Councillor Peter John, and he's going to tell us how the new scheme is impacting on him as a council. And we’ve got a council and an apprentice talking about their experiences of managing the scheme. And of course, we’ve got the LGAs Phil Bundy here, and he's going to give us a quick reminder on what the requirements of the scheme are. So Phil, I think that’s a good starting point, can you tell us what’s the basic set up of this scheme?

Philip Bundy – Senior Employment Law Adviser, LGA

So, first of all, you’ve got the money bit which is the apprenticeship levy, which is 0.5 per cent of your pay bill if you’ve got a pay bill if more than three million a year. And then you’ve got public sector apprenticeship targets, and they apply if you’ve got more than 250 employees. And what that looks like is 2.3 per cent new apprenticeship starts each year based on the number of employees you’ve got. So, if you’ve got 1000 employees it's 23 new starts a year, and this runs annually from April to March each year. And that started in 2017 and runs through to 2021. And you can actually average over the period, but you do have to report per year and you have to report within six months of the end of the relevant year. So, for the one that’s running at the moment 2017 to 2018, you’re going to have to report by the end of September this year.

Luann Donald – Senior Workforce Advisor, LGA

So, that’s the basic requirements of the scheme. But Jamie, apprenticeships aren’t new for councils, we’ve been running and managing apprenticeship schemes for a long time, but how are councils getting to grips with the new requirements?

Jamie Saddler– Apprenticeship Adviser, LGA

Well, it's taking some time, there's certainly a lot of opportunities and challenges with this new policy. As you say, many councils around the country have been running apprenticeship schemes for a number of years. Some haven’t or haven't been running particularly large schemes, so they’re maybe taking a little bit more time to adapt to the new system as it goes forward. I think this is a big opportunity for councils because we have quite a large dedicated budget now for personal development and career development training through apprenticeships, but at the same time, there's a lot of challenges. The new scheme has been introduced quite quickly, not all apprenticeship standards are in place including in a number of key areas such as social care and with schools. There are issues with training providers as well because the new standards often cost more than the frameworks they were replacing initially, so there’s issues around pricing. And as well, local authorities can only spend the levy on the training of apprenticeships so they’re having to fund the development of their own programmes themselves, which for councils who have had several years now of budget cuts and reducing headcounts, are making things very challenging. That’s why I think it's going to be quite a struggle for councils to meet the public-sector target, that Phil was referring to, this year, particularly because that’s based on headcount and not full-time equivalent, so it doesn’t take into account all of the part-time staff that local authorities have. So, I think that is going to prove a challenge. The good news is it seems that councils are still to rise to that challenge and are making progress, we’re likely to have more apprenticeship starts this year than last. So, a mixed picture but councils are getting on with the job.

Luann Donald – Senior Workforce Advisor, LGA

So Jamie, some real opportunities there but challenging as well. But I understand there's some particular issues from schools, can you tell us about that?

Jamie Saddler– Apprenticeship Adviser, LGA

Yes, absolutely.  So, community schools are included within the public-sector target for each local authority because the local authority is considered to be the employer for those schools. So, that increases the numbers that local authorities have to deliver. And in schools, in particular, there are a lot of challenges because in many ways this is a culture change for them, they haven’t really entered this area before, they haven’t had that many apprentices working in schools. There's also a number of other ways into teaching and into teaching assistant positions as well, that don’t require schools to sort of spend as much money as they have to on some of the other costs around apprenticeships, often there are bursaries in place in some of these schemes as well. Also, standards are proving quite a challenge, there aren’t very many apprenticeship standards already approved for schools to use, they’re taking a long time to come online as well. The first sort of major postgraduate teaching standard isn’t coming online until September of this year. So, schools haven't been able to spend very much of their levy so far.

Luann Donald – Senior Workforce Advisor, LGA

So, it sounds like it's a difficult scheme to resource and to manage, and it's still the first year, so clearly, it's bedding down. But despite all of that, councils seem to be making quite good progress, don’t they Jamie?

Jamie Saddler– Apprenticeship Adviser, LGA

Yes. So, we did a survey before Christmas of all of the upper and single tier authorities around the country, to get an idea of what progress they were making against the target, how they were finding spending their levy, problems with the system, that kind of thing. The good news is that there is quite a lot of support at upper levels of the council, council leadership and CEOs, these seem to be buying into this. Around three-quarters of councils have already incorporated apprenticeship policies into their corporate plan, so this is really bedding in and permeating through the council. The other good news as well, I think, is that a lot of councils are linking their apprenticeship programme to some of the wider work that they’re doing in their local communities, whether that’s in the sort of economic areas or whether that’s helping looked after children, people in care into work. So, take Birmingham, for example, they have a pre-apprenticeship programme for care leavers, which is linked into their wider apprenticeship programme and gets people ready to move on to the next level.

Luann Donald – Senior Workforce Advisor, LGA

So Jamie, there's a lot of great work going on out there despite the challenges. The governments ambitions for apprenticeships have quite a high profile in local government, not just as an employer but we also have duties around how we help our places with apprenticeships. So, we’re going to speak to Councillor Peter John about what they’re doing to manage the apprenticeship scheme in Southwark, and also what their views are on the scheme. Councillor John, can you tell us about the successful apprenticeship scheme you’ve been running in Southwark?

Councillor Peter John OBE – Leader, Southwark Council

We made a commitment four years ago to create 2000 new apprenticeships in Southwark, and obviously as a leader and as someone promoting apprenticeships we played our role as a council. We’ve currently got 99 apprentices in the organisation. We had about 100 a year for last decade, I guess, going through the council, many of them are still here in the in the organisation, many are now in management positions. So as a council we have really seen the value of apprentices and apprenticeships, and what they can bring to the wider workforce.

Luann Donald – Senior Workforce Advisor, LGA

So obviously, Southwark have been successfully getting apprentices into work for many years, how does the new scheme with the targets and the levy sit alongside that?

Councillor Peter John OBE – Leader, Southwark Council

Well, the apprenticeship levy kind of takes things to a new level. As councils across England and Wales, we’re having to put hundreds of millions of pounds into the apprenticeship levy scheme. We’re already good practitioners, I think, on the whole as local councils, in terms of seeing the value of apprenticeships, apprentices and employing apprentices, but the reality of the apprenticeship levy is that we’re never going to get the money that we’re investing into the scheme back. I think we’d have to quadruple the number of apprenticeships across all local councils in England overnight if we were to see the return on our investment into the scheme, that doesn’t take away from the fact that, you know, local government supports the apprenticeship levy. We support the government’s target of three million apprenticeships because it is important in parity of esteem with the academic route, but I think the government has to recognise that there are some problems with the apprenticeship levy as it is currently constituted.

Luann Donald – Senior Workforce Adviser, LGA

And what’s your view of the scheme as it comes to the end of its first year?

Councillor Peter John OBE – Leader, Southwark Council

We know that the apprenticeship levy as it comes to the end of its first year is going to have massive underspends. And as a local authority in Central London, we don’t want to see that money just, you know, taken back into the treasury, we want it spent either on apprenticeships or on training.

Luann Donald – Senior Workforce Adviser, LGA

Thank you, Councillor John. Jamie, that was a great insight into how the schemes affecting Southwark council, can you tell us what messages are we sending about all this back to the government?

Jamie Saddler– Apprenticeship Adviser, LGA

Well, I think we are generally positive about the apprenticeship levy and the opportunities it offers, but I think we do want to see changes made so that local authorities are able to properly invest the money to develop their local economies and improve skills locally. One of the downsides of the levy is that funds expire after 24 months if you don’t spend them, and because of the issues that I’ve mentioned before around standards not always being in place, in some areas local authorities are not able to invest this money in the right training that they need for their organisation. So, we would like the expiry time to be extended in these areas to give local authorities more opportunities. I think we would also like to see the money retained locally when it does expire rather than go back up to the treasury and be spent elsewhere. And schools, as I’ve mentioned, are a big big issue, and I think we feel that schools probably shouldn’t be part of either the levy or certainly, the public-sector target on the local authority side. And so, we would like to see those changes made to the system ideally.

Luann Donald – Senior Workforce Adviser, LGA

So Jamie, from what you’re saying it sounds like we won’t be able to meet the targets, for lots of good reasons. So Phil, I suppose my question to you is what happens if we don’t meet these targets?

Philip Bundy – Senior Employment Law Adviser, LGA

Well, there are no direct financial penalties if you don’t meet these targets, but you will be expected to explain what you have done to try and meet them, and what you’re going to try to do in the future to try and meet them. So, you know, what recruitment exercises you’ve undertaken, how you may have worked with schools in your authorities etc. And ultimately, the government say that what they can do is they can sit down with you and see what support could be offered to you to help you meet those targets by 2021.

Luann Donald – Senior Workforce Adviser, LGA

So, it's clear that there's a lot of really good work going on out there on creating and managing good apprenticeships. We’re going to speak to Thurrock Council and hear what their experience is of putting the scheme in place.

Kerry Huckstepp - Snr Business Improvement Officer, Thurrock Council

Thurrock Council have always had a really good apprenticeship programme, but with the introduction of the apprenticeship levy in April 2017 we recognised that we needed more structure around our apprenticeship offering. So, we’ve come up with a new three-year apprenticeship strategy and that’s been underpinned by our people strategy. In year one, we’re concentrating on the basics, that means introducing a raft of support for managers and for apprentices. So, for managers, that means things like guidance notes, so that they have the tools that they need to ensure that their apprentices get the best experience ever. And for apprentices, we’ve introduced apprentice forums, so these are monthly meetings where they get the opportunity to come together as a group and discuss subjects that are interesting to them. Another area where we’ve seen some success is in our CPD programme, where we’ve embedded apprenticeships. Our staff are really comfortable with our CPD programme but they’re not comfortable with apprenticeships, they see them as something just for young people newly into the business. But now we’ve had the opportunity to talk to them, they can see that it can help them develop their own careers, and we’ve seen some great success off the back of that. We’ve doubled the number of apprenticeships that we’ve offered at Thurrock Council, 20% of those opportunities are for existing staff where we’ve upskilled them. But we know that this isn’t a sprint, it's not a race for the line, it's a long-term programme and some of the things that we have started this year won’t come into fruition until 2018, 2019, so the plans we have around health and social care and town planning. Historically, we’ve recruited apprentices throughout the year but this year we want to make a concerted effort to really target those young people that are leaving school and college this spring summer. So, we’re working to bring together a real nice mix of different types of apprenticeship, so something that schools can really get behind and sell to their young people. And we can really promote ourselves as being a great place to work because we have so many different opportunities for the young people of Thurrock.

Luann Donald – Senior Workforce Adviser, LGA

So, some really interesting work going on in Thurrock. We’re now going to hear from Matthew Wallis and he's working for Central Bedfordshire Council, but he was an apprentice there previously, and we’re going to hear what his experience of being an apprentice was.

Matthew Wallis – HR Project Support Officer, Central Bedfordshire Council

I’m currently a HR Project Support Officer at Central Bedfordshire Council. My career journey actually started when I was looking for apprenticeships. I had just finished my AS levels. I decided that the traditional A level to university route which was so common in my school, just wasn’t right for me. And when I looked around there was nobody actually considering doing an apprenticeship. So, what happened was, I investigated, and I looked on the government website and realised that apprenticeship would give me the offer of real-life work experience versus also having the qualification. I decided that I wanted to focus my search on local government apprenticeships because of the passion to provide local community services. In addition to this, my apprenticeship was really, it really stood out for me because I could actually see my career pathway. I could see where they wanted to take that role, and I knew that the development opportunities in the council were going to be really substantial and that actually the money didn’t… weren’t the biggest pulls for working in local government. So, there's the things like development and support and mentoring that really outweigh any monetary benefits. So there's a massive difference in the employment rate for people with a disability and people without. So, I have a hearing impairment myself and I strongly believe that apprenticeships could be the key to helping bridge this big gap with this many people out of work. Public sector organisations are actually missing out on some really talented people and skills through apprenticeships. So, I've been working with organisations such as the PPMA and the LGA, and I’m always really keen to promote the benefits of employing more disabled people within an organisation. And I’d actually challenge you to check that your apprenticeships are as successful as possible, so could you be doing more to support your hiring managers, your applicants and actually your workforce as a whole.

Luann Donald – Senior Workforce Adviser, LGA

That was really interesting to hear the work that’s going on. And of course, we’re supporting this work at the LGA, aren’t we Jamie, can you tell us a bit about that?

Jamie Saddler– Apprenticeship Adviser, LGA

Yeah, absolutely. So, we’re in the process of trying to ramp up our support offered to councils at the minute. We held a couple of events in January for some of the largest local authorities where we introduced them to the maturity model, which is a new tool that we’ve developed. Which is designed to be a sort of self-assessment tool for councils to use to be able to work out where they are currently in terms of delivering their apprenticeship programme and where they would like to be going forward. And we’re going to use that as the basis for a lot of the support that we’ve got going forward over the next few months.

Luann Donald – Senior Workforce Adviser, LGA

So finally, Phil there's a slight change coming to how the levy’s going to work, can you tell us a little bit about that?

Philip Bundy – Senior Employment Law Adviser, LGA

Yeah. There's potentially a useful flexibility coming up from April 2018 this year, from then employers will be able to transfer up to 10 per cent of their levy to another body of whatever size. So, in councils the obvious sort of example might be, you might transfer some of your levy to a contractor and you then work with them on getting apprenticeships set up in that contractor. And you’re going to have to have agreements about that, how that’s going to work and there's further information on this on the .gov website. But think we’ll all agree it’s a potential useful flexibility.

Luann Donald – Senior Workforce Adviser, LGA

Thank you, Phil and thank you, Jamie. I think you’ll agree that was a really useful discussion today, and if you have any thoughts on any of the topics we covered please do get in touch at our usual email address, which is And of course, look out on our website for all the updates on the information that Jamie talked about.