The reforms brought into force alongside the Apprenticeship Levy have drastically altered the eligibility criteria for apprenticeships - making it much easier to use this type of training for existing employees.
However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that apprenticeships are now open to all employees - regardless of their existing qualifications or experience - and in this guide, we’ll shed some light on the issues that might affect eligibility.
Why have eligibility requirements changed?
The recent round of apprenticeship reforms were enacted in an effort to enhance the productivity of Britain and incentivise employers to utilise apprenticeship training to tackle emerging and extant skills gaps.
To this end, the Levy was brought into play as a way to fund the uptake of training and the composition of apprenticeship training has been altered to better-meet the needs of employers.
Previously, apprenticeships were restricted to young people and mainly favoured by employers in sectors that required a practical skill set. However, as of April 2017, age-related criteria has been abolished, although some restrictions do remain in regard to the prior qualifications of the apprenticeship candidate.
Apprenticeship eligibility restrictions
Since skills are devolved policy, the eligibility requirements for apprenticeships can differ within the UK’s constituent nations and the issues we’ll be discussing are limited to English apprenticeships.
First and foremost, apprentices must have the right to work in England and spend at least half of their working hours within the country.
They must also be employed by your organisation or if you’re part of a group of companies - one of your connected companies (as defined by HMRC).
You have to pay apprentices at least the minimum wage and they need to have the opportunity to work with experienced staff, develop skills related to their job and have time for ‘off-the-job’ training during work hours.
The government’s guidance on the issue of prior qualifications states that a key principle of an apprenticeship is to:
“Help an individual develop new skills and process in their career.”
To this end, employers are now able to use funds accrued via the Levy or government co-investment to procure apprenticeship training that enables employees to carry out an apprenticeship at a higher level than a qualification they hold currently.
However, in August 2016, employers welcomed a proposal that would provide enhanced flexibility - allowing them to train staff on an apprenticeship at the same or lower level than they already hold, with the proviso that:
“This allows the individual to acquire substantive new skills and the content of the training is materially different from any prior training or a previous apprenticeship.”
In further funding guidance provided by the SFA (Skills Funding Agency), it was highlighted that the onus is on employers to evidence that undertaking repeat or lower-level second apprenticeships will support their staff in an extended job role.
“We will fund another apprenticeship framework at the same or lower level if the apprentice needs to be multi-skilled for their occupation and if the learning is materially different to the apprenticeship they achieved previously,” it said.
Similarly, if an apprentice undertakes a new role in a different occupation, they’ll be eligible to get funding for an apprenticeship at the same level that they’ve previously achieved.
In terms of prior degrees or other academic qualifications, these may be taken into account as recognised previous learning or accredited previous learning, or judged to be different enough so as not to have an impact on the apprenticeship they’re looking to undertake.
It was stated that these policies will be subject to regular review to ensure that apprentices are learning appropriate skills that provide valuable training and provide a tangible benefit to the wider economy.
What constitutes a material, substantive difference?
A big question remains around what prior qualifications will impact eligibility and since the rules cover
such a wide range of standards, roles and circumstances - there’s no one-size-fits all answer.
While your provider should be able to help you make case-by-case calls, in general, it’s best to approach the issue from the standpoint of abiding by the government’s aims - namely promoting training that generates valuable new skills for the learner and preventing employers from using government funding for apprenticeships merely as a cost-saving measure.
Despite arguably better guidance from the government on the issue of apprenticeships and prior qualifications, elements of the legislation still remain something of a grey area.
And if you’re looking for hands-on support in procuring apprenticeship training for your business, don’t hesitate to talk to our expert team for an obligation-free consultation today.