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Reaping the rewards of apprenticeship learning

A learning revolution is underway with apprenticeships at its heart, says Debbie Gardiner, chief executive at Qube Learning

Earlier this year the most radical shift in adult learning for a generation was introduced – one that will forever reposition the way employer-led learning in England is funded. The change – the so-called apprenticeship levy – is a fee paid by any employer with a payroll greater than £3 million a year. It aims to reignite demand for “earn while you learn” development, by involving employers as content trailblazers, to repackage, refresh and reposition the previously out-of-fashion apprenticeship, and make it fit for the 21st century.

But for many employers, including those not involved in developing apprenticeship content or those who are simply new to the changes, this new learning landscape is both exciting, yet can also appear daunting. All organisations, even small and medium-sized enterprises that receive a minimum of 90 per cent funding from government, face having to review how their learning will change moving forward. Levy payers need to consider how to spend their levy and the most efficient use of the funds in their digital apprenticeship account.

The training provider community however, Qube Learning included, is here to help. With a long history seeing the benefits of a joined-up learning approach, training providers are now truly able to become the partners organisations need.

Long before the apprenticeship reforms came into force, Qube Learning was already hard at work, joining forces with employers, across many different sectors, to understand exactly what their future learning needs would be. Many needed advice about whether existing training could be integrated into an apprenticeship scheme, about what new learning they would need and whether training could be national or with regional partners.

Key concerns for employers were that their learning needed to be measurable, flexible, add value to their business and create new pathways for employees’ career development.

Meeting these demands hasn’t always been easy. But while we could have created a single solution that everyone follows in the same way, we knew this wouldn’t have suited all employers. That’s why we feel we’ve gone further than most. We now have teams of dedicated employer account managers, experts who can advise clients about our national coverage. These teams not only take employers thorough a full organisational needs analysis, but they can help them align their long-term training needs with what we can offer.

But we’ve gone further still. We’ve developed what we affectionately call our ANAP or apprenticeship needs analysis profiler. Crucial for the success of the apprenticeship levy is for it not to be seen as just another employer tax, and that with strategic thinking and planning, apprenticeships can actaully unlock missing potential within people and organisations. With our ANAP, we actively enable organisations to forecast their spend across the academic year reliably, to see all fees associated with learning delivery. In essence, we believe it takes the guesswork out of planning, preparing and paying for apprenticeships.

To accompany this we have also developed our unique Seven Steps to Success methodology. It’s in recognition that apprentices need to be part of a more holistic learning strategy. The programme allows individuals to move from pre-employment schemes such as traineeships, through levels 2 and 3, and ultimately progress to degree-level apprenticeships. Seven Steps to Success is the output of consultation with employers and Job Centre Plus to determine which sectors most needed targeting, before finally partnering with the Business School at the University of Surrey to collaborate on the creation and delivery of degree-level apprenticeships.

All these innovations are specifically designed to take the hard work out of learning and ensure employers’ experience of apprenticeships is such that they will want to do more of them.

Everything we do is designed to make learning easier. For instance, it’s because we know the apprenticeship levy will place even greater responsibility on learning and development professionals, we’ve also recently introduced a learning and development division. This takes accountability for apprenticeship programme design, including any accompanying e-products. It incorporates a bespoke learning management system, which can be customised to an employer’s own intranet, and contains resources and learning activities apprentices can take at a time that suits them and their employer.

Organisations might well be only five months into the start of this new learning revolution and many may still need help to plan how their future learning requirements will now be met, with apprenticeships for all age groups at its heart. But it’s clear they also have the opportunity they’ve been waiting for to really super-charge their skills. The learning loop is coming full circle as firms can succession plan, develop skills and, most importantly, feel they are the stakeholders in the process. It’s an exciting time ahead for the whole learning industry.

If you would welcome a discussion around how Qube Learning Limited can support your business please contact their teams on thefutureoflearning@qube-learning.co.uk or telephone 01235 833838

CASE STUDY: PEACOCKS

Retail chain Peacocks, part of the Edinburgh Woolen Mill Group, has more than 400 stores in the UK and has been working with Qube Learning to deliver its apprenticeship programme nationally. This has also included developing pre-employment traineeships, where trainees progress to taking on full apprenticeship courses.

“It was crucial our provider was able to deliver the range of programmes we needed on a national scale,” says a Peacocks spokesperson. Qube worked with the company to develop a full learning framework that would provide its staff with a pathway to progression. This included mapping out learning routes that would move employees from intermediate-level apprenticeships in customer service and team-leading roles, to advanced apprenticeships in management. Peacocks also worked with Qube to enable it to blend its own internal training processes into Qube’s lesson plans.

The Peacocks spokesperson adds: “When the apprenticeship levy was introduced, we saw a further opportunity to maximise the use of our levy by bringing part of our apprenticeship delivery in-house and to become an employer provider.

“Although this gave us full accountability, we decided very early on to continue working with Qube, choosing a co-delivery model, whereby we deliver vocational elements of our apprenticeships while Qube continues to deliver functional skills.

“Qube has also assisted us with enrolments and conducting initial assessments of our apprentices. From using technology-based solutions, to group training and one-to-one coaching, the only limit employees now have to their progression is their ambition. It’s now their choice if or when they stop learning. This flexibility has allowed us to maintain our excellent partnership with Qube.”

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