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Deciphering the apprenticeship levy

Orwell’s ‘1984’ is heading for bestseller status 68 years after publication; on both sides of the Atlantic, politicians and the media are disseminating alternate facts and ‘fake news’ and Brexit is raising alarms about the skills of the UK workforce (if it’s not going to be so easy to import skilled workers, we better see about training our own, etc.). In such confusing times, language becomes more important than ever: we need to understand what is really being said.

The apprenticeship levy

It feels as if apprenticeships or something similar have been a core policy for every government since the late 90s (NVQs, whatever happened to them?). And from April 2017, even more onus is being placed on employers with the ‘apprenticeship levy’: a mandatory tax on big business which can be ‘recovered’ in the form of government funding for apprenticeships

On the People Management website, there’s a new interview showing Robert Halfon MP, Minister of State for Education, answering questions from HR professionals. So, tongue firmly in cheek, let’s interpret the answers with an eye for doublespeak* (follow the link above for the original answers).

How does the government plan to ensure that the 20 per cent mandated off-the-job training under the new funding rules will be adhered to by employers and providers alike, to ensure that high-quality training that develops real skills is delivered?

We will test apprentices to ensure they have acquired the necessary skills... but not how they’ve acquired them. We’ve made it clear that you have to do it and that should be quite enough effort on our part.

What measures are built into the scheme to ensure it identifies employers that do not use the levy for the purpose intended?

We’re promising to invest a lot of money in this so we’ve tried to make it difficult for you to spend that money on anything else. We have published lots of rules and guidance to annoy help you. I can’t name any specific built-in measures but if we ever do happen to spot any misuse of funds, we’ll do something.

What is the penalty for those in-scope public sector authorities that do not achieve the 2.3 per cent apprenticeship target?

We expect it to be met. But there is room for slippage. Businesses will report annually and provide excuses, if necessary. In other words, there is no penalty.

If we truly want our workforce to include apprentices, why didn't you propose that 0.5 per cent of employees had to be apprentices?

We have plenty of targets already and besides, we shouldn’t have to force you to use apprenticeships; you should want to use them.

CIPD research last June revealed that up to 40 per cent of employers had not planned their response to the levy. This suggests that extra support and encouragement is needed. Can the government consider allowing employers to use levy funds to pay for the additional support they need to get high-quality apprentice programmes in place?

Look, we’ve talked to some employers while setting all this up so you really should be ready by now. You can’t spend the levy money on just setting up the scheme – that expense is yours.

There are 500 new apprenticeship standards either ready or in development. Does the government have any idea how many standards there will end up being?

We have absolutely no idea but are offloading a lot of the responsibility for making this work onto employers in the hope that you can come up with an answer for us.

* “Doublespeak is language that deliberately obscures, disguises, distorts, or reverses the meaning of words. … Doublespeak disguises the nature of the truth.” --Wikipedia

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