There has been much discussion in the media about the new apprenticeship scheme, introduced last year under the Trailblazer Apprenticeship Standard.
The key change from the previous system is that it is now employer-driven, to ensure the skills and knowledge included are what employers need.
To achieve this, the standard has to be written and developed by an employer group made up of a representative sample of the specific industry sector, and this is often facilitated by a trade association.
Good examples are the BESA and the Building Controls Industry Association (BCIA), which have put employers in touch with one another, enabling them to form an employer group and develop relevant standards for their specialist areas.
On the whole, the building services industry has been very proactive in developing specialist Trailblazer Apprenticeships, and a number of them are already approved for delivery – the Building Services Engineering Service & Maintenance Engineer, for example. Many more are in the pipeline, including the BEMS Controls Engineer, submitted for approval in May.
The main benefit of the Trailblazer approach is that funding for training is available for a much wider range of age and experience – unlike the old apprenticeships, which were aimed at 16 to 24-year-olds – and it can be funded throughout an apprentice’s life.
For employers, it is flexible enough to meet their changing skills needs and those of their – often diverse – workforce. An apprenticeship can include a mix of training courses and off-the-job training defined by the business, for the business. The main proviso is that external training providers must be registered with the Institute of Apprenticeships (IoA), and there must be a ‘lead’ provider, such as a local college for City & Guilds courses or the BCIA for specialist courses. However, employers can still deliver some elements of training in-house too.
This is a real opportunity to attract, train and retain more engineers, installers and technicians than ever before
Funding for the scheme comes via the Apprenticeship Levy – paid by UK employers whose wage bills are more than £3m – which was set up to ‘encourage’ more employers to do training, rather than leaving it to the few. So all businesses can now benefit from more funding for a wider range of training. Non-levy payers – primarily SMEs – contribute 10% of the training cost, with the government paying the remaining 90%, so there’s a significant incentive to invest in your staff.
It is essential that levy-paying employers draw down their training credits within 24 months; if they don’t, they will lose them. So these employer groups need to be supported – and, preferably, need active participation – so that the right skills are developed for the sector.
Employers can also drive the development of the end-point assessment (EPA), which must be contained within every Trailblazer Standard. This measure of occupational competence is critical, and is carried out by independent bodies such as National Electrotechnical Training (NET). If a job role is to be professionally recognised, the industry must feel confident that any qualified Trailblazer apprentice has been tested for their all-round competence – and that is why the EPA is key to the validity of the whole scheme.
Arguably, the success of Trailblazers depends upon employer groups working together to ensure that:
- The EPA is accessible and affordable for all employers (large and small, and whatever their geographical location) and is designed to assess the knowledge and skills that a competent person needs to fulfil their role
- All employers can put in place a development programme for individual trainees based on their entry qualifications and experience.
Inevitably, this massive change in the approach to apprenticeships and their funding will lead to some disruption – but we need to address concerns, rather than just dismiss them. This is a real opportunity to attract, train and retain more engineers, installers and technicians than ever before, but it will need focused effort and support.
Our challenge is to engage employers, and encourage them to embrace the Trailblazer schemes within our sector, as well as to continue to work together once the apprenticeships are launched. We, as employers, have been given the opportunity to change training for the better to meet our skills shortages, so let’s give them the attention they deserve.
■ For details, see IoA, BCIA and the BESA websites and, to be involved in the BEMS Controls Engineer Trailblazer, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
■ Wendy Belfield is commercial director at InTandem Systems