This year sees the introduction of key government reforms to apprenticeship funding and frameworks. It will give many care providers cause to review their current training models, as Tracy Johnson, Head of Quality & Compliance at Heathcotes Group, explains…
From May, the way apprenticeships are financed changed significantly with two new funding models. Employers with a payroll of over £3 million will be required to pay an Apprenticeship Levy which amounts to 0.5% of their payroll bill. Non-levy paying employers will have access to a co-funding arrangement. Each standard has a funding cap and the Skills Funding Agency will pay up to that capped price.
The Apprenticeship Levy is paid into a Digital Apprenticeship Service (DAS) account which employers can access to fund apprenticeship learning and find a range of approved training resources. The government tops the Levy fee up by 10% and the employer pays the full cost for any subsequent apprenticeship until the Levy funds run out. After that, the employer pays 10% towards any apprenticeship and the government pays the remainder.
Non-levy paying employers contribute 10% towards the cost of any apprenticeship and the government pays the rest. Unlike levy-paying employers, they won’t be formally required to use the DAS account until at least 2018 but the service will be available for their use in finding suitable apprentices, frameworks and training and assessment providers. Assistance with this is available from the National Apprenticeship Service. In addition, incentives will be paid to employers with fewer than 50 employees, those taking on 16-18 year olds and upon successful completion of the Apprenticeships.
The second major government reform to arrive by the end of the year applies to qualification frameworks. The current Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF) will be replaced by the Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF) by January 2018. Units of learning will no longer have to be worded exactly the same across different awarding organisations (although the content will be a close match) and awarding organisations are permitted to add a particular focus to the content of diplomas and other qualifications for social care. Ofqual will also apply a new emphasis on ensuring that awarding organisations keep checking the quality of qualifications as they are delivered.
Many care providers will be wondering how these changes will affect them. The Apprenticeship Levy will certainly increase the initial cost of apprenticeships for larger organisations. However, in Heathcotes’ view the ideal training model for care apprenticeships is closely aligned with the Apprenticeship Levy funding model and the resources it provides via the DAS. However it is funded, the key to successful apprenticeship outcomes is a policy which communicates, demonstrates and invests in a commitment to long-term professional development.
Social care remains the largest apprenticeship framework, with 37,600 more starts in 2015-16 than the second largest framework, business administration. However, the care sector also has an average staff turnover rate which, at 25.4%*, is problematically high. Low staff turnover is desirable in most industries, but especially so in the care sector as continuity is extremely beneficial for many service users. In our experience the best way to lower staff turnover is to find potential apprentices with the right personal qualities for care work and plan a work-based, structured learning formula which teaches the necessary skills to do their job well and progress through Levels of Qualification.
Heathcotes find that when management shows a commitment to targeting and planning clearly defined career objectives, the care apprentice often feels empowered and encouraged to achieve them. In an age of zero-hours contracts, when widespread job insecurity is especially acute amongst school leavers, many young care apprentices respond well to the opportunity when they can see a career pathway mapped out to help them achieve their goals. This enthusiasm has a positive effect on the standard of their work and the experience of the service user. Problems with staff retention tend to arise when employees see their job in isolation with no reliable route to progression beyond the next pay slip.
Although the Apprenticeship Levy requires an initial investment from employers, they can reap the benefits of that investment in the longer term with ongoing learning programmes expertly organised by approved training and assessment providers registered on the DAS. With the benefit of these types of programmes, apprentices can become loyal employees who are steeped in the organisation’s values – unlike external appointments that are recruited mid-career and bring values derived elsewhere – and many have the potential to become the next generation of management with invaluable first-hand experience of the personal dynamic between carer and service user. Recruitment can be a time consuming and costly process, so higher staff retention and progression eliminates much of the time and money spent on finding replacements (particularly at more senior levels).
The arrival of the RQF in January will give training providers greater flexibility in tailoring programmes to individual needs and it will also increase focus on the quality of qualifications. We believe that this focus can also benefit staff retention – in our experience, care workers who feel that they are receiving properly structured, high quality learning and development feel valued and supported as a result, which makes them more likely to remain with their employer.
One of Heathcotes’ key apprenticeship policies is the completion of the Care Certificate during the induction period. The Care Certificate is often seen as a staging post which recognises the completion of the first phase of learning – awarded after three of more months of training – but we see it as a starting point, providing a vital foundation which informs and shapes much of the work-based learning that follows. Establishing this foundation is part of a wider training model developed with assistance from our approved training provider, Learning Unlimited. It has enabled us to improve retention and progression, reducing our staff turnover rate to just 3.2% in the past financial year.
All of Heathcotes’ senior management team have progressed with the company from entry level. I started out as a 16-year-old support worker, so my own experience from leaving school has given me an appreciation of the value of care apprenticeships and carefully structured learning for career progression. Heathcotes have a policy of having at least one apprentice based at each of our 50 residential homes across the UK and apprenticeships make up 13% of our workforce. We forecast that 83.7% of our apprentices will progress into full time employment at the end of their apprenticeship in the 2016/17 academic year, an improvement of 10.6% on the previous year’s figure and almost 20% above the overall achievement rate for the sector.
The care sector often talks about ‘quality of outcomes’ but the term is usually applied to service users. In other words, care providers rightly pay close attention to their service users’ journey towards the achievement of a more independent life, but afford less attention to their employees’ journey towards the achievement of career goals. It is important to recognise that these two strands are often closely related – investing in the latter can benefit the former.
*Skills for Care Report, March 2015