Ian Rippin
Managing Director of St Helens College Commercial Division

Ian RippinIan Rippin, Managing Director of St Helens College Commercial Division, for National Apprenticeship Week 2018 urges employers to take advantage of the control they now have over apprenticeship training.

I have always been a firm believer in the power of education to change lives for the better and in a business context, to provide the skills and inspiration to fuel organisational change and growth. A few months ago I was managing a successful international Engineering Services business. Today I am the Managing Director of the Commercial Division of St Helens College trading as SK College Group, the product of a recent merger between St Helens College and Knowsley Community College. My move from industry to the Education and Training sector has given me an insight into both sides of the challenges now being faced following the recent apprenticeship reforms.

Apprenticeships under pressure

One of the most powerful ways to enhance skills in your organisation is through apprenticeships. In my last role, offering apprenticeships delivered new skills, revitalised teams and gave a sense to all employees of a business making an investment in its people, being critical to our collective future success. It is therefore troubling to see that since the apprenticeship reforms in April 2017, apprenticeship starts nationally were down 59 per cent May to July and 26 per cent August to October compared to the same periods the previous year.

Despite this recent setback in apprenticeship recruitment, nine out of ten employers say that their apprenticeships have delivered for their organisations. I personally believe in one of the main objectives of the reforms, that being to place employers and not training providers in the driving seat. It is what employers now do with this new found power that will prove critical to future success, boosted further by what many hope will be a relaxation to the rules that govern apprenticeships. The risk being that UK plc misses the Government’s target of funding three million apprenticeships by 2020.

My four steps to taking control

Many of the employers that I talk to are scratching their heads, struggling to make sense of apprenticeships post reforms. The larger apprenticeship levy employers that I have spoken to, predict on average that they will use less than 30 per cent of their ‘levy pot’ this year and expect to only add a further 10-20 per cent to that performance in 2019/20. This is a worry for boardrooms up and down the country, as Levy money taken each month by HMRC through the PAYE process, only has a two year shelf life. In my opinion, employers need to be taking the following steps now:

  • Step one - Understand whether you are a Levy payer or not. Ignorance is not bliss and I have been surprised to find a small number of employers who don’t know whether they are Levy payers or not. They are missing out on what could be thousands of pounds worth of training. One employer I know has even abandoned apprenticeships altogether at least for this year, accepting the Levy payment as an additional tax.

  • Step two – Identify who will lead on your apprenticeships, including how best to optimise the return from your ‘Levy Pot’ if you have one.

    The effect of the reforms on those organisations with large Levy bills, appears to be a centralising of decision-making, with Group HR Managers / Directors now assigned the challenge of getting up to speed on the Levy or risk not benefiting from it. Previously training and recruitment decisions had been managed on a more localised basis by departments or satellite offices.

  • Step three – Identify a training provider who understands the new format apprenticeships and can offer you flexible solutions for their delivery.

    As an apprenticeship training provider, we are gathering up the creative ideas and proposals that can help employers, large and small, with their apprenticeship delivery.

  • Step four – Be clear as to the skills your organisation needs both now and in the future.

The government expects to move away completely from existing apprenticeship frameworks to standards over the course of this Parliament. Standards allow for much greater flexibility in terms of their learning content and can be shaped to meet your specific needs. You therefore need a clear skills plan, linked to your overall business plan. Working with a knowledgeable training provider, there is an opportunity to map over your skills needs and existing training programmes to benefit from apprenticeship funding or levy pot.

As we approach the one year anniversary of the apprenticeship reforms, expect more press coverage of organisations who are struggling to transition to the new apprenticeship Standards.

I would welcome any insights you may have as to how your organisation is planning to move forward with apprenticeships. Please either connect via LinkedIn or send me an email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Summary of changes under the Apprenticeship Reforms

The way the Government funds apprenticeship training has changed. Apprenticeships can no longer be considered ‘free’.

This latest reform is a result of the Richard Review (2012) which made a number of recommendations to essentially place employers in the driving seat. The first employer groups were formed in 2013 as ‘Trailblazers’ to design new English apprenticeship Standards.

From April 2017 an employer whose annual payroll exceeds £3m now pays into the new Apprenticeship Levy fund in the form of a digital apprenticeship service account. The basic calculation is 0.5 per cent of your PAYE bill above £3m, offset by a £15,000 allowance. The Levy can only be used to pay for training and so can’t cover an apprentice’s salary.

Those organisations with an annual pay bill of less than £3m will be required to pay 10% of the costs towards Apprenticeship Training.