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Government announces digital apprenticeship service as part of apprenticeship levy guidelines

The government has released guidelines for the upcoming apprenticeship levy, including how businesses can access funds to train apprentices

The government has released its plans for the 2017 apprenticeship levy that will allow businesses of all types to apply for funding to take on apprentices.

As part of the apprenticeship levy, the government will launch a digital apprenticeship service to help firms properly implement apprenticeship schemes.  

Charlotte Holloway, director of policy at TechUK, said the levy took into account many of the concerns of technology firms surrounding movement of funds to train employees in other firms, and the introduction of  apprenticeship bands.

Holloway said: “Today’s update from the government will give tech companies a good deal of reassurance that a number of substantial concerns on the detail of the levy have been listened to and acted on. Education secretary Justine Greening should be applauded for listening to the needs of tech companies, in particular on supply chain flexibility and recognising through the funding band model that companies are incentivised to invest in higher level high-quality apprenticeships.”

The rules surrounding apprenticeships

As part of the levy firms operating in the UK with an annual pay bill of over £3m will be required to pay into the programme through PAYE.

Firms will be able to apply for apprenticeships through a digital apprenticeship service account with HMRC, and can use the funds to pay for training and assessment for their apprentices in the UK.

The service will help firms find an apprenticeship framework or standard, a training provider, an assessment organisation and post vacancies for apprenticeships.

The digital apprenticeship service will also allow firms to see the funds they have available, agree prices with training providers and pay for apprenticeship training and assessment.  

By 2018 the government hopes an employer will be able to transfer 10% of the funding from its digital account into another employer’s account to pay for apprenticeships, for example a company within another firm’s supply chain.

Filling the skills gap

The UK is currently suffering from a skills gap that means tech companies cannot find the skilled workers  to fill jobs, and over the last decade the number of computer science graduates has declined.

Many believe this skills gap can be solved using tech apprenticeships, or by training people with soft skills to understand the technical aspects of roles.

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Holloway said the levy has outlined different initiatives that could help tech companies train their own employees and use apprentices to fill the IT skills gap.

Holloway said: “Particularly welcome is the detail that companies will be able to use levy funds to help existing employees acquire new skills. The world of work is changing, driven in part by the increased adoption of new technologies right across the economy – this move will help responsible companies upskill their employees to thrive in the modern digital economy.”

What the tech industry needs

There is a debate over whether or not the apprenticeship levy will help to create the number of skilled workers the UK needs by 2020.

Many people in the UK do not have any digital skills, and this lack of tech knowledge is costing the UK approximately £63bn a year.

As even roles such as store assistants require increasing tech knowledge, the importance of digital skills for all types of jobs is becoming more prevalent.

Holloway said: “There are still unanswered questions. We encourage the government to reconsider including digital skills alongside English and Maths in minimum standards required for all new apprenticeships created over the coming years.”

Although the new computing curriculum is helping to introduce schoolchildren to tech at an earlier age and tackle this lack of digital knowledge, it will be a few years before the next generation of skilled tech graduates are available.

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