Apprenticeships: government is encouraging SMEs to deliver their own training

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Apprenticeships in the UK are changing.

A range of measures introduced this year will make vocational training more attractive for ambitious young workers and the businesses that employ them, which is great for SMEs looking to recruit and train a new cohort of aspiring accountants, bookkeepers and other finance professionals.

The apprenticeship levy

From 6 April 2017, a new levy will begin funding apprenticeships. Employers with annual wage bills of £3 million or more will be required to contribute 0.5 percent of their payroll to the initiative. This high threshold means that larger business will pay the levy, while very few small businesses will have to contribute directly.

They may, however, be required to co-invest 10 percent of apprentice training costs, with the government shouldering the remaining 90 per cent. This surcharge is waived if the apprentice is aged between 16 and 18, and the company has fewer than 50 employees, which is good news for micro-businesses and other forms of small scale enterprise.

SMEs can deliver their own training

As part of its push for more apprenticeships the government is encouraging more SMEs to deliver their own training. By committing to provide bespoke training for apprentices, smaller businesses can receive additional funding from the government. This means it’s a great time for finance SMEs to consider diversifying in order to prepare the next generation of professionals for the world of work.

SMEs that opt to deliver bespoke training are subject to inspections by Ofsted and must work closely with the Skills Funding Agency. While this route may require a little more paperwork than simply taking on an apprentice through another provider, smaller businesses that take on the opportunity will be able to tailor their staff’s training much more specifically to their individual role.

Becoming an apprenticeship training provider

The first step to delivering bespoke training is to submit an official enquiry to the National Apprenticeship Service. From there, a representative will be in touch to assess whether your company meets the criteria to become an apprenticeship training provider.

Next, companies must register with the UK Register of Learning Providers (UKRLP). The UKRLP maintains a search portal for employers that are looking for training providers.

Businesses must also register with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). This is to verify that the company is eligible to provide learning opportunities and to ensure that systems are in place to protect any personal data handled by the business.

After that, it’s time to apply for your place on the government’s Register of Apprenticeship Training Providers (RoATP). The government hopes that this register “will encourage diversity and competition in the provider market, supporting quality and employer choice”.

Application routes

When registering to become an apprenticeship training provider, there are three possible application routes. Deciding on which route is most suitable will largely depend upon how the company wishes to operate its training, and whether it wants to provide training for its own staff alone or external learners too.

  • main route: for organisations that want to deliver training themselves.
  • supporting route: for organisations that only want to deliver training as a subcontractor for other providers.
  • employer-provider route: for organisations that only want to train their own staff.

Setting the standards for finance

Once fully registered, a company is ready to provide training for apprentices in line with an approved Apprenticeship Standard. Financial services and accountancy are well-developed areas for apprenticeships, with AAT and ACCA contributing to the employer-led “trailblazer” frameworks which set out industry standards for different roles.

For companies that feel becoming an employer-provider for apprenticeships isn’t the right choice for them, there are still opportunities to get involved in shaping the future of your profession. From NHS Trusts to the “Big Four” of accountancy worldwide, businesses large and small can contribute their time, expertise and knowledge to defining standards for finance industry apprenticeships.

Providing the chance for young people to develop their professional skills and gain practical business knowledge presents a remarkable opportunity for SMEs, especially in a constantly changing sector like finance. There’s never been a better time for smaller businesses to  facilitate more bespoke and personalised learning opportunities for the next generation of workers.

Key takeaways for SMEs

  • Only businesses with annual wage bills of £3 million or more will be required to pay the new apprenticeship levy.
  • Businesses can receive additional funding if they choose to offer apprenticeship training themselves.
  • AGE grants of up to £1,500 per learner are available for SMEs employing apprentices aged 16 to 24.

Lauren Razavi is an award-winning writer and content strategist, and managing director of communications consultancy Flibl. She has worked on projects for leading global brands such as NatWest, Google and Facebook, and her writing focuses on technology, finance, entrepreneurship and innovation. Follow her on Twitter @LaurenRazavi.

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