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Apprenticeships: setting the standard

2019 brought new enhancements for the local firm of office-based apprenticeship training providers Starting Off. The transfer from apprenticeship frameworks to standards is well in hand, and the company is confident in its offering for Northamptonshire employers and their apprentices.

In 2017, the Institute for Apprenticeships worked with employers to create and develop new apprenticeship standards, “to raise the quality of apprenticeships, and to replace all the old apprenticeship frameworks by 2020”.

The standards are devised to be employer-led. The criteria is met naturally in the workplace. The evidence is provided totally by the apprentice and their employer, with only guidance from their trainer. The apprentice is assessed through an end point assessment; demonstrating that their knowledge, skills and behaviours are relevant to the standard and their job role. The new standards are occupation focused and give the apprentice a recognised qualification. Whereas, frameworks are assessed in a number of units at the time of completion of training, by assessors in the workplace or training rooms.

Starting Off delivers a number of new apprenticeship standards, including the Digital Marketer, Assistant Accountant, Professional Accounting/ Taxation Technician, Customer Service Practitioner, Business Administrator and is launching the Level 3 Team Leader and Infrastructure Technician apprenticeship in January, offering current and future learners’ further progression.

One of the first standards launched was the Level 3 Digital Marketer. The apprentices come out with an equivalent to two A Levels and also a complimentary qualification recognised in the industry called ‘Squared Online’. On this, the apprentices work with international peers and gain a qualification in the company of heads of marketing.

It has been an exciting challenge for the team to go from assessing to training. It’s a positive change for the young people and employers of Northampton. Apprenticeships now have more focus on the apprentice’s previous learning and knowledge. New initial assessment is key to underpinning a high, quality learning journey for each individual apprentice. It is part of the compliance for the apprenticeship and the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) and Ofsted see this as fundamental. The apprentice’s individuality is at the heart of Starting Off’s values, so this gives emphasis to this excellence.

The HM Government 2020 Vision for English Apprenticeships says that the “goal is for young people to see apprenticeships as a high quality and prestigious path to successful careers… This will support our aim for young people to get the best start in life, through the opportunity that high-quality education and training provides”. It goes on to say that they want employers to be in the driving seat and for universities to work with employers to deliver new degree apprenticeships. Starting Off sees its apprenticeships at Level 2, 3 and 4 as one of the stepping-stones to this success.

Starting Off continues to grow, with 280 learners; it seems that more young people are choosing the apprenticeship route. There is still work to be done in 2020 to educate parents and some school staff about the new apprenticeships. Starting Off goes out to all local schools and reaches candidates. It is seeing new confidence from schools, such as Wellingborough School, who invited Starting Off to showcase apprenticeships, particularly in AAT.

In July this year, the BBC reported, “Apprenticeships are shaking off a reputation for low-paid drudgery and there are more higher-level apprenticeships coming on stream. But competition for the best opportunities is as fierce as it is for the top university places”. In Northamptonshire, we have some of the most privileged apprenticeships available. It’s a good place to be.

Apprenticeship guidelines have put what is known as ‘20% Off the Job Training’, firmly in the limelight. This is a vital and enriching part of the apprentice’s training. The apprentice is more engaged if they are fully trained in both the knowledge and practical side of their job. This can include visiting manufacturers and suppliers, attending seminars and webinars, to being given an understanding of the knowledge built into the standard. Knowledge and theory behind the practice can give the apprentice a greater understanding of why they are completing a task.

Sadly, there have been changes to the funding calculations and allocations in the last two years, impacting on training providers. This has been a common issue across the UK. A survey by the Association of Employment and Learning Providers found up to a quarter of providers have had to turn away prospective SME apprenticeship employers. This is simply because they cannot fund the programme. Starting Off is developing ways to overcome this by placing learners on the bespoke ‘permanent employment with training’ service, created to increase the offering available to these young adults.

And finally, Ofsted brought about changes to the inspection framework which puts the curriculum back at the centre of inspection and whether the apprentice has high-quality learning with progression.

Starting Off has had a busy year setting the bar. The apprentice is firmly centre stage with quality learning and practical skills, needed in the workplace, funded by either a levy or government funding. The standard is high.


For Northampton call Katie Goodall 01604 622855, Kettering call Jessica Berrill 01536 417373