Challenges and opportunities - how are Universities and Employers approaching the brave new world of the Levy?
By Dan Beynon
We are now only a month away from the formal launch of The Apprenticeship Levy in the UK and Universities and Employers find themselves in various levels of readiness in terms of what lies ahead. Here at SMRS we are operating at the epicentre of the current situation – working with Universities and businesses to better understand the opportunities presented by these changes.
Over the last few weeks I have spoken to organisations that are gearing themselves up for the arrival of the Levy, both education providers and businesses, in order to understand more about their approach and the likely impact of the change.
Starting with the Higher Education sector reactions have ranged from full engagement and detailed preparation to those that are watching developments closely and nervously evaluating impact and resource requirements. Universities already face a period of uncertainty in a number of areas including The Higher Education Reform Bill (HERB), The Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) and international student mobility after Brexit.
Of those Universities committed to offering Degree Apprenticeships under the new system their state of preparedness is varied. Historically Universities have been successful in developing direct relationships with the students they recruit. The new Degree Apprenticeships model is one in which the Employer recruits the student and Universities now need to find and partner with those Employers. That’s a very different skillset and this means Universities have had to develop capability in this area quickly. Some providers have well-established links with business and experience of this type of relationship whereas others are learning how to develop capability and forge successful business links whilst facing a short delivery timeline.
Southampton Solent University is one of a group of modern Universities that has seized the opportunity that the new landscape offers and Tere Daly, Director of External Relations at Solent sees Higher and Degree Apprentices becoming a significant portion of their student cohort. He told me “The University has allocated resource and investment in this area since being involved in the Government’s initial ‘Trailblazers’ project in 2015 and we’re now well placed to help businesses develop a real understanding of all that is involved in apprenticeship partnerships.” It seems that the ability of a provider to help businesses navigate this developing training area will be crucial to the success of the collaborations and Solent has appointed David Moxon as their new Head of Apprenticeships to take charge of just that work.
Another University with a history in this market is London South Bank. They have long established links with employers and one of the highest numbers of employer-sponsored students of any UK institution. Neeta Barot, who develops relationships with business at LSBU, explained that the University has invested in a dedicated team to support employers through the development of courses and also the funding challenges.
BPP is a leading private University in the UK and has close working relationships with business. BPP have worked with Trendence to find out more about how employers are approaching this situation. Their research surveyed 300 organisations that will be amongst the largest Levy payers in the country. The vast majority (over 90%) planned to use the Levy and the research also revealed another, perhaps unintended, consequence of the policy in that we may see a reduction in the number of graduates that an organisation would look to recruit in favour of recruiting more school-leavers onto these apprenticeship programmes.
The response from businesses to the Levy has been, until recently, muted, despite the wide-ranging potential impact of the changes. This is probably in part due to the competing distractions of Brexit, economic uncertainties and political upheavals. Our work with both Universities and Employers has given us a unique insight into the situation and it’s clear that there is a real lack of understanding amongst employers of the detail and operational logistics of the Levy.
At the end of October 2016, the Institute for Employment Research and IFF Research were commissioned by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to survey affected businesses. This research showed that initial reactions of employers to the levy fell into four groups:
-‘business as usual’ - already deliver high cost apprenticeships,
-‘taking advantage’ - increase and improve provision
-‘overcapacity’ - their levy liability not matched by their capacity to expand
-‘not playing’ - will write off the levy payment.
Santander are enjoying working with BPP to develop Degree Apprenticeships. Ian Gallagher, their Head of Emerging Talent, has spoken of the key role he sees this programme playing in his review of Santander’s future talent strategy. Ian says “We are providing the best opportunities to people and sourcing the bank’s need in the best possible way.” He cites “a prime example being the technology and operations part of the business, where we have increased the number of apprenticeships we are recruiting. We are going further and growing our digital Degree Apprenticeships so that people are provided with the adequate digital skills”. Warning of the challenges that employers will face when trying to deliver these programmes Ian said “Make sure you get buy-in at the very top and that it filters down across the organisation, because you will encounter barriers as plans are implemented.”
There is now an urgent opportunity for education providers to support businesses with the guidance and expertise they clearly need in order to make the most of this exciting opportunity and use their experience to help those businesses recruit candidates. It’s closer connections between employers and universities that will unlock the benefits of the Levy for both parties. SMRS are now working with Universities to develop more effective B2B strategies and campaigns and in turn helping employers to recruit the right candidates to fill their apprenticeship places and also meet the right training partners.