Nuclear Skills Strategy Group sets out and seeks views on the Apprenticeship levy

The Nuclear Skills Strategy Group (NSSG) of leading employers has welcomed the UK Government’s support for high quality Apprenticeship programmes, and recognises that the Apprenticeship levy, together with the future clarity on system operation, will further enable this.  The NSSG’s submission to the Government is set out below. This has been positively received and is under continued discussion. Additional views and comments from sector employers and partners are very welcome.

Ensuring the sector’s strategic priorities are considered

The NSSG believes that the funding system should include incentives for qualifications that meet strategic (and national) needs in key occupations and regions. The system could be designed to encourage uptake of STEM subjects and achieved by allowing bursaries for specific occupations, or ensuring that the Maximum Government Contribution Tariffs incentivise the longer STEM Apprenticeship programmes.

Ability to use the levy flexibly

Likewise, there needs to be more flexibility to use levy on workforce training and CPD. There could be unintended consequences to the new system: paying levy may result in budgets for workforce development and graduate programmes being cut back.

Need for Apprenticeship Standards

Companies with apprentices in England, Scotland and Wales are now faced with different standards, funding arrangements and systems. This increases costs and impacts on transferability of labour. The NSSG would like to see the various UK Governments agree common base standards.

There is also evidence that providers are not getting ready for the new Trailblazer Standards and there are gaps in the forward programme for their completion, roll-out and adoption. Government should set out a clear transition plan so employers, providers and individuals can get ready for the reforms.

Clarity on funding re-allocation

There is currently little detail on the operation of the Digital Apprenticeship Service (DAS)  and some concerns that the Government may be able to collect the levy from business, but not allow business the time to gear up to spend it. This is particularly true for the potential re-allocation of funding to their supply chain. Without flexibility on this, there is danger that industry cannot contribute as much as it could to the 3 million apprentice target.

Smaller companies could find themselves having to absorb the impact of contributing to the costs of apprentices’ training and such lack of support could be a major barrier to further uptake.

The NSSG understands that Government is supportive of the principle of allowing companies to use credits in their DAS account to pay for apprentices in other companies. It believes that this flexibility will have significant benefits to the sector, but larger companies will need this facility from the beginning in order to ensure maximum return on their levy.

Levy Funding for Traineeships to boost sector links to education

Given the clear potential links between education and training the NSSG believes that unused DAS credits could be used to fund suitable Traineeships – either directly, or by higher funding rates within Apprenticeships for those who have been through the Traineeship route.

Traineeships were piloted during the Nuclear Industrial Partnership programme to great success (particularly in the supply chain for Hinkley Point C) and the NSSG would like to see more Government support for this type of programme.

Fiona Rayment, NSSG Chair said on behalf of the NSSG: “Apprenticeships have long played a vital part in addressing the nuclear sector’s skills challenge and the growth of Apprenticeships over the last Parliament and the commitment to more high quality apprenticeships is welcomed by the nuclear industry. We recognise that the levy presents an opportunity to further these objectives, but its implementation still raises a number of concerns around key areas including meeting the needs of the sector’s strategic priorities, flexibility of use and our requirement to meet our broader and pressing skills needs as we face a challenging agenda ahead.”

Nuclear sector employers, providers and other partners are invited to submit support or further comment, please contact judith.holcroft@cogentskills.com to provide feedback.