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Published: 21st March 2023

One week on from the AAC Conference and Awards our MD Steve Smith reflects on another great conference!

“I always love being at the AAC event.  The positivity in the room is fantastic because everyone there is involved in, and believes in, apprenticeships.  It’s great to be part of that community and to connect with stakeholders and colleagues old and new. 

“For me and for SIAS it was especially good this year because, for first time, we were sponsoring the awards and able to demonstrate our support more directly than we have before. 
“There was a great mix of content across the two days and we enjoyed hearing from the Skills Minister, shadow Skills Minister, Ofqual, Ofsted, IfATE and UCAS among others and the team also participated in a number of really informative workshops. 
“So, what were my key takeaways?  For the first time I felt there was an honest and collective recognition that the apprenticeship system as it stands now just isn’t working in the way it should be.  Employers are voting with their feet, and we’ve seen a significant drop in starts since the Levy was introduced, and another YoY reduction so far this academic year. 
“We’re seeing 52% completion rates nationally, SMEs not engaging in the way we would hope, £2bn in levy returned to the Treasury, the uptake from 18-19 year olds and at Level 2 and 3 not what it should be –  so it’s clear that things need to change. 
“In many ways we’re shielded from a lot of that impact at SIAS because we support STEM industries which are bucking the trends outlined above to a certain degree which is for us very positive, starts on Engineering standards are up and completion rates across STEM based standards are high – but it is clear that holistically there are changes required to ensure apprenticeships are really working for all in the way they can, and should.
“We listened with interest about the proposition for the introduction of a broader skills levy.  Something like this would give all employers greater agility and flexibility in terms of what they spend with 50% ringfenced for apprenticeships, but with an option for more spend and focus on other skills interventions which could support apprenticeship provision.
“We heard and agree with the concerns raised over the Government de-investing out of Level 2 apprenticeships which we feel strongly is the wrong approach.  To support social mobility and levelling up we need skills, and restricting access and entry points at Level 2 will hinder, not help, that agenda.
“It was clear that many stakeholders across the sector remain concerned about functional skills and are pushing for English and Maths Functional Skills not to be a requirement within apprenticeships moving forward.  Some certainly see this current requirement as the key barrier to starts and completions, they are costly to deliver, and again raises concerns around accessibility and negative impact on social mobility. We at SIAS remain fully supportive of lower level apprenticeship provision.
“Overall, it was a fantastic couple of days and what a night at the awards event – congratulations to all the finalists and winners!
“I left the conference on a high but with a couple of overriding thoughts…. We are without a doubt entering into a very challenging 2-3 years for the sector. We’re in the midst of a damaging skills and labour shortage, potential change in Government, and with that might come a radical change to the Levy.  Coupled with the continuing evolution of technology changing the face of the workplace and the cost of living and energy crisis we are all facing unpredictable and significant pressures.  To survive and thrive it’s the organisations that are bold, pro-active, disruptive, and ambitious that will prosper and be able to have greater impact.  The days of sitting still are well and truly over!”

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