David Pearson is managing director of Premier Partnership

The chief executive of Premier Partnership’s strategic partner the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) Ann Francke and director general of the British Chamber of Commerce (BCC) Dr Adam Marshall have come up with a set of recommendations for reform of apprenticeships to make the Apprenticeship Levy work for business leaders. The recommendations are based on five asks of government and five asks of employers:


What the CMI/BCC say the Government needs to do to reform apprenticeships for business leaders


  1. Transform the skills landscape

This recommendation asks Government to ‘think bigger’ about the skills needed in the workplace of the future with re-skilling of existing employees being part of the solution. The myth that apprenticeships are only for new recruits needs to be squashed.

  1. Listen to business and transform the Levy

CMI and BCC believe that the “complex and restrictive Apprenticeship Levy rules make it feel more like a tax than an incentive to invest in skills” and that these should be re-evaluated. They are calling for other accredited quality training to be included in the scope of the funds so as not to risk future growth and productivity by diverting essential training that doesn’t fit within Levy guidelines.

  1. Provide efficient, single point accountability

They are also calling for greater simplicity and transparency so that apprenticeship standards can be brought forward more quickly and be more employer-led with a single body responsible for quality assurance.

  1. Measure the impact, not the target

The recommendation here is for quality over quantity which should be what employers are focused on in all of their learning and development. The Government must have targets on numbers but this shouldn’t be the sole focus.

  1. Keep the process joined up, stable and consistent

… once the suggested reforms have been implemented. This would certainly make life easier for employers but it is likely to be an ever evolving process.


What the CMI/BCC say employers needs to do to reform apprenticeships for business leaders


  1. Get informed and involved and tackle skills needs

The CMI and BCC want employers to take responsibility for find out about how new apprenticeship standards can boost their business both by re-skilling and up-skilling existing employees and bringing in new talent. This is no longer something organisations can ignore if they are going to increase productivity and competitiveness.

  1. Find flexible ways to manage training

Having worked with employers for many years as a training and apprenticeships provider, we know how important flexibility is to getting the most out of learning and development. Many employers perceive newly reformed apprenticeships with the 20% ‘off the job’ training element to be too restrictive but this needn’t be the case. With the right training provider who understands the business goals, work-based learning as part of an apprenticeship can have both an immediate impact on the bottom line as well as longer term benefits. As the CMI/BCC plan says: “Employers should work with their training provider to identity sensible, flexible and creative training opportunities – including online workplace training, work-based assessments and other time that you invest in developing an apprentice.”

  1. Commit to long-term skills investment

We were pleased to see that the recommendations included an acknowledgement that “the majority of firms have been underinvesting in skills for decades, leaving the UK far behind our international competitors” and that “all businesses can play a part in fixing the skills crisis.” As we have said for many years, learning and development should not be a ‘quick fix’ or ‘tick box’ exercise; it needs to be part of a clear skill development strategy if it is to have a long term impact and deliver maximum return on investment.

  1. Embrace wider workforce planning

This recommendation touches on the myth that apprenticeships are only for entry level roles. They are now open to everyone in the workforce right up to leadership and management level, and should be used to embrace wider workforce planning. Working with a training provider with experience of developing workforce strategies, rather than just delivering one off solutions is key.

  1. Measure the benefits

The plan highlights “better skills, productivity, staff retention and employee engagement” as “just some of the benefits of investing in apprenticeships.” Seeing the Apprenticeship Levy as merely a tax undermines to huge potential for return on investment from properly embracing apprenticeships as a key workforce development strategy. It is something that needs to be taken seriously at Board Level from finance to operations, rather than just sitting within HR.