Becoming an employer provider – weighing up the pros and cons
If you work in apprenticeships, you may already know that if you are an employer, there are two main ways of delivering apprenticeship programmes. One option is to go through a professional training provider, and the other is to become an employer provider yourself and deliver your own programme.
However, what does this really mean and what does it involve? Whether you are an employer already using a training provider, or simply thinking about becoming an employer provider from the beginning, let us consider some of the high-level pros and cons of both routes to make your decision easier:
Keep the control
As someone who used to head up the team that managed employer providers in the Skills Funding Agency (SFA), I came to clearly understand what motivated an employer to want to ‘do it themselves’. There are many advantages. Firstly, you have control. It is your own staff who are delivering the training, doing the assessment and working closely with your apprentices. There are no ‘third party’ colleges or training providers delivering to your apprentices. Within the context of the apprenticeship framework or standard, you can control the content and ensure it meets your business needs and growth plans.
Do things your way
By delivering the programme yourself, you are working within the values and boundaries of your corporate brand and reputation. You do things your way and you control the quality of apprenticeship delivery. For young people in their first job, this will especially help them to feel a real part of your organisation.
Increase your opportunities
Other benefits include an increased opportunity for your own more experienced staff to become coaches and mentors to your apprentices, and in so doing enhance their own skills. Finally, as an apprenticeship levy payer it is easier to control and manage the funds in your digital account. Once again you have control as to when you start your apprentices, and how they progress.
The associated costs
Being an employer provider is not without its challenges. There are costs involved as the employer takes responsibility for the operation and administration of the apprenticeship programme. In addition to employing admin staff to undertake the processes required by the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), trainers and assessors are needed, as is a member of staff to over-see the quality of the programme. In my experience, you need to have an apprenticeship programme of at least £500k before becoming an employer provider becomes financially viable.
Adhering to processes
Being an employer provider also brings with it responsibility for Ofsted and ESFA audits, both of which, if not properly monitored, could have a negative impact on corporate reputation. There is also the need to keep up to date with the often-frequent changes in government policy and processes. Whilst an employer could expect the ESFA to communicate any such changes, there is still the need to ensure the correct interpretation of policy, which is not always as clear as it could be!
Ensuring apprenticeship quality
If you do decide to become an employer provider how do you ensure you are delivering a first-class programme? Firstly, as an employer provider, it is easy to become a little isolated in the apprenticeship world. The solution to this is to join a networking group, such as the Apprenticeship Practitioner Forum where you can meet informally with colleagues from other companies who are also employer providers to discuss best practice. You can receive clarification on the funding rules, share your challenges, and usually find that someone there has an idea or two to help.
Other things to consider
Internally review your programme
It would also be a good idea to internally review what you do and assess how effective your programme really is. It is easy to become complacent, when you should be making sure that you are compliant! For example, with the ESFA Performance, Management and Funding rules. There are excellent Learner Management Systems available, such as Tribal Maytas, which can support you to streamline your business processes and respond to any changes to statutory and tracking requirements.
Benchmark against other providers
Additionally, you should be looking to do some benchmarking work to compare what you are doing against others in your sector. If you are looking to get the most from your apprenticeship programme it’ll be important to consider how it really links to your recruitment, learning and development, and talent management strategies.
Should you take the leap?
There are already nearly 400 companies who have made the decision and are enjoying the benefits, but it is not the right choice for everybody. If you are thinking about it, or if you are already an employer provider not sure whether it is still right for you, then visit www.a-a-s.co.uk, where you will find more information.
Whatever you decide…good luck!