Somewhat under the radar in the UK, well in England at least, we seem to be facing a fundamental decision point for what workplace learning means.
The government’s apprenticeship levy is threatening to create, from my current perspective at least, what looks like a three-tier system:
- small organisations who will take on apprentices over other training as they dont have to pay into the levy so its ‘free money’ reducing the need for their own L&D
- medium to large employers who see the levy as a substantial cost and feel they need to ‘claim back’ as much of the money as possible via shifting their learning focus to apprenticeships.
- large employers who can live with the cost of the levy and will continue as they were.
Overall though it seems the main feeling is one of confusion. The slow feed of clarification from the government means that forward planning is tricky and at the recent 70/20/10 event I spoke to a number of people who felt apprenticeships were fast becoming their number one issue, without any real discussion in the L&D press. The issue perhaps being that if an organisation shifts to the ‘claim back’ or ‘free money’ mentality they will be impacting on a number of traditional disciplines including finance, L&D, recruitment and more. Perhaps the problem is that, as no single discipline ‘owns’ this issue, apprenticeships remain somewhat out-of-scope for many (at least in their own perceptions of their role).
There is, of course, a very recent precedent for government policy increasing the so called ‘cost of business’. That so many organisations are being accused of cut backs to benefits to pay for the living wage, raises the suspicion that L&D budgets face a similar cull in the face of such a training related ‘tax’. The CBI have already warned that successful learning initiatives will suffer in the face of the levy.
With a target of 3 million apprenticeships over the next few years we are talking about comparable numbers to higher education entry. Meanwhile, 2014-2024 figures suggest just 1.8 million new jobs – with degree apprenticeships one solution – implying that apprenticeships will need to be used for promotion.
There are some fundamental issues for workplace learning is how apprenticeships can align with wider trends. Modern apprenticeships will need to focus on bringing in certifying skills from a range of experience, exposure and education. This will almost certainly have to include some formalisation of the informal, blurring the lines therein (such as staff using tools such as Lynda’s learning paths).